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Former deputy acquitted in 2019 death of man following chase

February 4, 2022 GMT

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — A former Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy was acquitted of charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault by a peace officer in the 2019 death of a man after a high-speed chase.

A jury on Wednesday found former Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Blount not guilty in the death of David Ward, 52, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Ward died after a struggle with the deputy, who put him in a neck hold.

Authorities said the high-speed chase began when a law enforcement officer spotted Ward in his car, which Ward had reported stolen. Ward had retrieved the car but failed to inform officials. The chase ended at a dead-end road near his home in the rural Sebastopol area.

Blount was the first law enforcement official in Sonoma County to stand trial on criminal charges in the death of a person being detained. At the time, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick released body camera and dashboard video of the arrest and said that Blount had used excessive force and violated department policies. Blount retired before being fired.

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Harry Stern, Blount’s attorney, said the verdict proves jurors agreed with evidence that showed Ward was in extraordinarily frail health and had consumed a toxic amount of methamphetamine. Although rough, Blount’s actions were reasonable, Stern argued.

“We extend our condolences to Mr. Ward’s family and friends,” Stern told the newspaper. “I know it was a very painful loss, no doubt, and we haven’t forgotten that.”

A coroner’s investigation found Ward died from the physical confrontation, including blunt-impact injuries, Blount’s neck restraint and being shocked by a stun gun. His death was ruled a homicide.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Ward’s frail health was a factor in his death, though she believed the facts supported bringing Blount to trial.

“While I accept the verdict in this case, I hope it speaks out in support of continued transparency and accountability on the part of law enforcement and the community,” Ravitch said.

Essick said the jury’s verdict doesn’t change his department’s position that Blount violated department policies.

“That conduct was unacceptable,” Essick said. “Nothing changes in that regard.”