Sonoma County sheriff's deputy not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in stolen car mixup

A jury on Wednesday found a former Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy not guilty of all charges related to his role in the death of a man after he was caught on video beating him during a stolen car mix-up more than two years ago. 

The jurors, deliberated for seven hours over two days, unanimously found Charles Blount not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and assault by a peace officer in the November 2019 death of 52-year-old David Ward, who authorities mistakenly thought was driving a stolen car, when it was really his own. 

Body camera footage from the day in question showed Blount putting his arm around Ward’s neck in a carotid hold and slamming his head into the door frame of the green Honda - which Ward had reported stolen but had later found it without alerting authorities. Blount's partner used a Taser on Ward twice. 

Ward eventually stopped breathing and died. Deputies later arrested Ward's caretaker for the stolen car. 

A juror told reporters that "it was a very interesting and disturbing case. ... Nothing this officer did was beyond the scope of proper behavior," the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. 

Ultimately, jurors found that Blount’s actions were lawful and that he had not committed manslaughter.

DISTURBING:  Sonoma County sheriff's deputies Tase man, slam head into car

Blount's attorney, Harry Stern, issued a statement thanking jurors "for their patience and hard work. Charlie is relieved and grateful. I would also like to reiterate our condolences to Mr. Ward’s family and friends."

Prosecutors, during the four-week trial, had contended that Blount’s actions were criminally negligent and that he used excessive force that resulted in Ward’s death.

One of their lead witnesses, Dr. Joseph Cohen, Marin County's chief forensic pathologist, testified that Ward died due to a physical confrontation with law enforcement and that his injuries were caused by blunt impacts, electrical shock from a stun gun and a now-banned neck hold Blount had used, the Press Democrat reported. 

Stern, however, argued that Ward’s frail health and his chronic drug abuse — he was on methamphetamine at the time of the encounter — as well as stress from the pursuit were the prevailing factors in his death.

Defense attorneys also stressed that Blount actions were reasonable and lawful given his belief he was responding to a traffic stop where the motorist was suspected to be an armed carjacker.

A month after Ward died, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick posted a YouTube video available to the public, saying he was seeking to fire Blount and he called what he saw on the body cam video "extremely troubling." 

Blount, a 19-year department veteran, retired before completion of the termination proceedings.

Ward's mother filed a civil rights suit against the county, alleging Blount and his partner used excessive force. 

The Press Democrat reported that Sonoma County reached a record $3.8 million settlement with Ward's family in April.

Ward's mother had previously told KTVU that her son was disabled and couldn't physically get out of the car or respond to the deputies' commands.