After a California cop caught up to the driver of a vehicle he believed to be stolen, he slammed the driver’s head into the car and put him in a sleeper hold. The driver died.
But the man behind the wheel, David Glen Ward, was actually the victim of a carjacking — not the perpetrator — and had reported his Honda Civic stolen to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office just days earlier, on Nov. 24. The 52-year-old had somehow recovered the vehicle, according to the Washington Post, but didn’t tell police the car was back in his possession. Ward was then driving the car home around 6 a.m. on Nov. 27 when police spotted the Honda Civic and began pursuing the vehicle, without realizing the driver was Ward.
The resulting police chase lasted for more than five minutes. In a disturbing nine-minute block of body camera footage that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office released Friday, deputies can be heard shouting at Ward to put his hands up, with their guns drawn. Ward puts his hands up but repeatedly tries to rest them back on the wheel before putting them up again, which made the officers scream at him more.
“I can’t believe this, I’m the injured party in this,” Ward says to the officers, according to the video, which the sheriff’s office released to be transparent about Ward’s death, according to KTVU. “Why are you fucking harassing me all the time?”
“Give me your hands, give me your fucking hands, come out,” Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Blount responds and begins to pull Ward out of the car.
“Alright, I’m getting out, I’m getting out,” Ward says.
In the video, Blount tries pull Ward out of the vehicle, but Ward groans that his legs are in pain. Deputy Jason Little can be heard off-camera saying that Ward’s legs are stuck. Blount responds that Ward bit him, and Little exclaims that Ward bit him, too.
As the officers continue to try and pull Ward out of the car, Blount smashes Ward’s head into the frame of the vehicle. Little then deploys his Taser on Ward, and Blount restrains the man in a carotid neckhold, also known as a “sleeper hold,” a move that many large police departments have banned.
The deputies then pull Ward’s limp body out of the car and handcuff him.
“Oh, fuck, he broke my skin,” Little says.
“Is he conscious?” Blount says.
“No, we need medical man, get medical,” Little responds.
Later, Deputy Nick Jax told the two officers they’d pulled out of the vehicle was the car’s owner. “Then why did he run?” Little asks.
Jax responded that he didn’t know, and that there was no reason for him to respond in that way.
“Oh well,” Blount said.
Ward was declared dead at a local hospital later that day, although the exact cause of death hasn’t been revealed. It’s unclear whether he was unconscious because of the sleeper hold or the injury to his head. Blount’s attorney, Harry Stern, told the Washington Post that Blount shouldn’t be held responsible, regardless, and that his impending firing was wrong.
“Frankly, Mr. Ward caused his own death by inexplicably taking a number of bizarre actions that confirmed in the deputies’ minds that he was an armed carjacker, rather than the victim of that crime,” Stern said.
Stern alleged that Ward had drugs in his system and that there wasn’t any trauma to his neck, but there’s no evidence to that claim until the county coroner releases their report. Stern also told the Post that Ward had a pre-existing medical condition. (Stern declined to comment further to VICE News but added that the carotid restraint is authorized by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.) Ward’s family members confirmed a pre-existing condition and told local news media that Ward had physical disabilities and used a wheelchair.
"The entire situation is extremely troubling," Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said Friday.
Cover: YouTube/KTVU/Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office