Ex-Sonoma County deputy indicted after fatal neck hold, slamming man's head into car door

A former Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who slammed a man's head into a car door frame last year and put him in a neck hold after a chase has been indicted by a grand jury on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and assault under the color of authority.

Charles Blount, 61, turned himself in at the Sonoma County jail Monday night on a warrant issued by the Superior Court in the county north of San Francisco, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said. The grand jury's indictment was returned on Oct. 30 and unsealed on Thursday. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday. 

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He was booked on suspicion of felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor assault by a public officer and released in about an hour after posting $50,000 bond. 

 "We feel this was a thorough process designed to ascertain the truth of these allegations," Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a statement, explaining why her office decided to ask a grand jury to return an indictment instead of prosecutors charging the case. 

Blount's attorney, Harry Stern, said his client did not intentionally cause the 52-year-old David Ward's death on Nov. 27, 2019.

"The evidence will prove that he died due to a lethal level of methamphetamine abuse which, in turn, presumably caused him to lead officers on a high-speed pursuit and then violently resist efforts to arrest him including biting two deputies," Stern said in a statement to KTVU. "This is not manslaughter. Deputy Blount’s actions were forceful but ultimately lawful under the circumstances. Mr. Ward’s death is unfortunate, sad and unnecessary and I again extend my sympathies to his family."

But the Marin County coroner did not find that drugs killed Ward, even though he had them in his system. 

The coroner determined that Ward's death was a homicide and that he died from cardiorespiratory collapse, blunt impact injuries, neck restraint and being shocked with a Taser during a “physical confrontation with law enforcement."

The coroner also found that Ward was under the influence of methamphetamine, had a history of chronic substance abuse, cardiovascular and pulmonary disease and other issues, along with a history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ward's family had long known he had suffered from drug, mental and physical issues, some of the reasons they said he wasn't able to exit the car when deputies ordered him to.

On the morning of his death, deputies spotted Ward driving a green Honda they mistakenly believed was stolen. The car actually belonged to Ward, who had recovered it after being carjacked and pistol-whipped several days earlier, but he hadn't notified authorities, according to the Sheriff's Office. It turns out Ward's caretaker had stolen it. 

Charles Blount, self-surrendered on involuntary manslaughter charges following the death of David Ward. Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

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After about a 5-mile high-speed pursuit by deputies and Sebastopol police, Ward pulled over on a dead-end road near Bloomfield, where he lived, authorities said.

When Ward didn't unlock his car door, Blount tried to pull the seated man through the open window. However, his leg was stuck under the steering wheel and he shouted in pain, according to body camera video released by the Sheriff’s Office. His family has previously told KTVU he had physical ailments that prevented him from being able to exit the car quickly. 

On the video, another deputy shoots him with a stun gun. That deputy, Jason Little, never faced any criminal charges and is on the job, according to the sheriff's office. 

Both Blount and another deputy are heard saying that Ward has bitten them.

During the struggle, Blount pulled Ward's head out of the window and slams it against the frame of the car door, the video showed.

He also places him in a neck hold, after which Ward appears to lose consciousness.

He stopped breathing and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Sheriff Mark Essick announced in December that he would fire Blount for violating department policies but Blount retired in February before the process could be completed.

Ward's mother has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over his death. Her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that the investigation correctly determined Ward's death was a crime.

“The force that was used was not necessary and it was not reasonable,” he said, adding that Blount “was a guy looking to hurt somebody and he killed a man."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.