Blount trial opens with sparring opening statements
Written by Marc Albert
Despite a current hold on most court business for public health reasons, the criminal trial of a former Sonoma County sheriff's deputy proceeded Monday because it was already underway.
Jurors and alternates sat motionless, but seemingly riveted, as the last minutes of David Ward's life, captured on jerky body camera footage, played out on a monitor for the jury. Shouted commands, expletives, and staccato lights from cruisers puncture the early morning of Nov. 27 2019 in the rural enclave of Bloomfield, where Ward's life ended, just blocks from his home.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Harry Stern said former deputy Charles Blount "seized the initiative," during the incident and that seizing initiative is "good police work."
Ward had reportedly led authorities from several jurisdictions on a high speed chase along rural back roads, and police thought he was a carjacking suspect. Back up several days earlier...Ward had apparently been pistol whipped in a confrontation with another, and the assailant stole his Honda, so Ward had reported it stolen.
Police were apparently monitoring the vehicle on the morning of Ward's death---it was somewhere in Santa Rosa---when it began moving. A traffic stop was attempted, but the vehicle, which Ward had by then found and retrieved... wouldn't stop, police say.
After two 'pit maneuvers,' officers crashing into the vehicle to disable it, Blount, another deputy and two Sebastopol police officers had their guns drawn, demanding Ward leave the car.
Stern described Ward's health as "compromised" by meth and quote "at death's door" before the stop.
Unwilling or unable to open the door, Blount began pulling Ward through the window, but Ward's leg got caught on the steering wheel. He shouts in pain, and is still in the driver's seat. Blount then smashes Ward's head into the doorframe. Ward is also tazed. Stern said Blount then put Ward in a cartorid hold, which he said is different from a choke hold. Stern described his client's methods as "reasonable" "low level" and "intermediate force." Ward never regained consciousness.
Meanwhile, opening remarks by Deputy District Attorney Bob Weiner, who is prosecuting the case, seemed to admit Ward bore some responsibility, saying Ward "didn't make anything easy for anyone."
But the prosecution described the scene as a "wild departure" from law enforcement protocol. "Blount's approach is not typical," Weiner said. Adding that Blount walked through the line of fire of other officers when approaching Ward. Weiner noted it is "practically impossible to leave a vehicle through a window."
Weiner said "from the moment Blount came on the scene, a peaceful resolution became impossible." Ward was 52.
Blount's trial continued this afternoon with his partner testifying...and is expected to go on for a few days.
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