A man driving his own car, which had previously been reported stolen, led police on a high-speed chase last week and died in an altercation with officers as they tried to restrain him, police said.
David Glen Ward, 52, supposedly had his vehicle stolen by a gun-wielding thief, but later recovered the vehicle and failed to inform police, BuzzFeed News reported.
Around 5:41 a.m. on Nov. 27, police received a tip from an off-duty detective who had possibly spotted a stolen vehicle in an unincorporated area in west Sonoma County. Minutes later, they located the car, which Ward was operating. Police said Ward pulled over, but then fled, eventually leading police on a high-speed chase that lasted nearly 10 minutes.
Squad cars eventually boxed in Ward, halting the pursuit. When officers demanded Ward exit the vehicle, he ignored them, police said. The 52-year-old supposedly ended up rolling down his window down but refused to open the door. When police attempted to pull him out of the driver side window, Ward allegedly bit two deputies.
“The deputies and officers used personal body weapons and struck Ward several times in an attempt to gain compliance and remove him from his vehicle,” according to a police statement.
Officers then tased Ward through the driver’s side window. Shortly afterwards, police said Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Blount reached through the window “placed one of his arms around the neck of Ward” and tried to subdue him using a “carotid restraint.”
A different officer smashed Ward’s passenger window using a baton, unlocked the door, and dragged him out the other side. Minutes later, deputies observed that Ward didn’t appear to be breathing, and attempted to resuscitate him. He was transported to a hospital around 6:20 a.m. Less than hour later, Ward was pronounced dead.
“After Mr. Ward was removed from the vehicle, there was no longer a struggle,” Lt. Dan Marincik told Oxygen.com. “I don't know at that point how aware and lucid Ward was. At one point, a deputy stated he was breathing but shortly after deputies and officers noticed he was unresponsive and had stopped breathing.”
Police said in a statement they plan to conduct an internal investigation to “determine if deputies followed policies.”
“We are continuing to gather information and evidence regarding this incident,” Marincik said. “We want to make sure we have conducted a thorough investigation into this incident to help gain as clear of an understanding as we can as to the circumstances around this tragic event.”
Marincik refused to comment on whether responding officers used the appropriate level of force in the encounter.
“I don’t think I'm in a position to answer that,” Marincik said. “Our role as the lead investigating agency is to conduct a thorough investigation and submit that to the district attorney’s office who will ultimately draw a conclusion and to whether the use of force was within law or warrants criminal charges.”
The use of chokeholds or neck restraints by police have always been controversial, but the maneuver has particularly come under fire in recent years following the death of Eric Garner who died after New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold, despite the maneuver being banned by the department decades ago, according to the New York Times.
Carotid restraints, however, are permitted by trained deputies on suspects who are violently resisting arrest in Sonoma County, where Ward died.
“It’s not considered deadly force — it’s another tool in our tool belt to use to take a combative subject or violent subject into custody,” Sgt. Juan Valencia, a police spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, told Oxygen.com.
A carotid restraint and a chokehold are not one and the same, he said. If properly applied, a carotid restraint shouldn’t block a person’s airway, Valencia explained.
“A chokehold is basically strangling a person," Valencia said.
Other law enforcement experts agreed.
“A chokehold is something that is utilized without any training or authority,” Keith Taylor, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor of law and a corrections expert, told Oxygen.com.
A carotid restraint — sometimes also referred to as a vascular neck restraint — is intended to put pressure on an individual's carotid arteries and restrict blood flow with the intent of rendering them unconscious, as opposed to blocking a person's airway, Taylor said.
“[It's the] bilateral compression of the carotid arteries and jugular veins at the side of the neck,” Taylor said. “It’s not supposed to choke a subject out or be a stranglehold. It’s not supposed to involve significant frontal pressure or oppression that would be applied to the structures in front of the neck, which are very delicate.”
Taylor, a 24-year veteran of the NYPD who served as an emergency unit supervisor, recalled a time early in his career when “chokeholds were banned due to their ability to result in disastrous outcomes.” And he said that across the county, there's an “ambiguity in department policy” about their use.
In certain situations, he said, employing such maneuvers are necessary, though he also noted that a split-second mistake can have dire consequences.
“If [it's] not used with precision it can easily lead to someone dying,” he said. “It can lead to tragic results if it’s not done properly.”
Another potential factor in Ward's death is that he was reportedly disabled. He had been hit by drunk driver and nearly died roughly two decades ago, his family said, according to the Press Democrat.
“He had to learn how to walk all over again,” his mother, Ernie Ward, told the daily newspaper. “He was really disabled from that accident.”
Ward sometimes got around using a wheelchair and also had an oxygen tank, the man’s mother told the newspaper. He had been supposedly been diagnosed with a heart condition, as well.
“He was in poor health,” said the man’s half-sister Catherine Aguilera also told the Press Democrat. “He had a hard time breathing and it’s hard to imagine him having even the energy or force to aggressively avoid an arrest.”
“In a perfect world they would have known who he was, known his medical condition,” Taylor added. “But the reality is, going into these situations officers often don't have the luxury of knowing the subject's background, their mental health status, their medical history.”
Ward is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, police said.
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