Not guilty. That is the verdict handed down late Wednesday afternoon by a Sonoma County jury in the homicide case against former sheriff deputy Charles Blount.
The first law enforcement officer in Sonoma County to face homicide charges for actions while on duty, Blount was charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault in the 2019 death of Bloomfield resident David Ward.
KRCB was at the Sonoma County Hall of Justice all day Wednesday while the jury deliberated and spoke to one of the jurors after the case was concluded.
“It was a very interesting and disturbing case,” said a man who identified himself as Juror #5865. “A lot of the video was cringe-worthy, but we determined that nothing that the officer did was beyond the scope of proper behavior. We didn't find he was excessive in his behavior at all, and that all of the actions that took place were legal within their training.”
The juror said there was disagreement among the jury about the Sonoma County’s District Attorney’s accusation of assault, with some believing that Blount, “possibly should have been found guilty for the second count. We were all pretty unanimous that the first count of manslaughter was not within the bounds. We talked about it and we went over the instructions–that were very confusing as far as the law went–[we] asked a few questions of the judge, but we were able to determine that he was not guilty of what he was charged with.”
After a little over 7 hours of deliberation the jury found Blount not guilty on two charges. One for Involuntary manslaughter, and one for assault by a police officer.
A visibly-relieved Blount thanked the jury for their decision and left the courtroom a free man. His defense attorney Harry Stern spoke briefly following the verdict.
"It was an extremely tough case," Stern said. "And really the only thing I have to say is I just want to thank the jury. They obviously took some time and considered it thoughtfully. They were extremely patient and diligent throughout the case. I appreciate it, and I know Deputy Blount appreciates it even more."
The verdict brings to a close a trial that continued despite a omicron-related pause on jury trials, because it was already underway when the latest health orders came down. Then the trial was delayed late last month when the bailiff contracted Covid-19.
Despite the acquittal on criminal charges, the Blount case did cost the county. Last April Sonoma County paid out a record $3.8 million dollar settlement to the family of the man who died during the police stop with Blount. It is reportedly the largest civil rights settlement in county history. For the dead man’s family and those hoping to see a conviction, the verdict was an anti-climactic end to the high profile case.