Via Allison Ash May 13, 2015 ABC 10
SAN DIEGO – Cellphone video obtained by Team 10 appears to show a San Diego County sheriff’s detective placing a security guard in a chokehold — an incident that has sparked a sheriff’s department internal investigation.
On May 5, Robert Branch was driving to work on Interstate 8 when he passed a Ford Fusion in front of him. After he passed the car, Branch said the Fusion’s driver tried to force him off the road.
“I’m in the dirt. We’re literally side by side, so now I start picking up speed so I can just back on the freeway,” Branch told Team 10.
Branch drove away from the Fusion and didn’t see the car again until he exited at College Avenue and stopped on a side street.
According to Branch, the driver parked behind him and got out of the car. At that point, Branch said he got suspicious and turned on his cellphone to start recording.
In the video, Branch is heard saying: “I’m in La Mesa right now. You see this officer right now. Right now, he does not have his lights on.”
Branch said, “I don’t see a gun, I don’t see a badge, I don’t see anything, no handcuffs. He pulls out his wallet saying ‘San Diego sheriff’s department.'”
The detective demands to see his license and registration and threatens to detain him, according to Branch.
As Branch’s cellphone continues to record, the plainclothes detective — identified as Paul Ward of the department’s Child Abuse Unit — comes up behind him and puts his arm around Branch’s neck in a chokehold maneuver.
Branch says in the video: “You cannot touch me, you can’t touch me. Sir, can you call police? You see this? You cannot touch me …”
In the video, Branch says “I love you mom” several times because, as he told Team 10, he thought he might die.
The situation escalated, and Branch said he passed out momentarily, causing him to drop the phone. It landed camera-side down on the pavement, but it continued to record.
When he came to, Branch said he started “defending myself, pushing, and I’m saying some words because I’m outraged. I’m mad because you shouldn’t do that.”
Branch was later arrested for resisting arrest, obstructing justice and reckless driving, but his attorney told Team 10 that Ward did not properly identify himself and used unnecessary force on his client.
Pablo Martinez, who alleges he witnessed the incident from just feet away, seems to endorse Branch’s story.
“He (Branch) kept on telling him (Ward), ‘Who are you?’ He kept on asking him, ‘Who are you? Show me something that tells me who you are.’ And the guy just wouldn’t show him. If he was a deputy, that’s news to me.”
Martinez says he watched Ward manhandle Branch, taking him down to the ground twice.
“The kid (Branch) never threw a punch or nothing,” Martinez said. “He just didn’t want him to touch him. And the officer kept on grabbing him.”
“I thought the guy (Ward) was a criminal,” Martinez adds. “If he wasn’t a criminal, then man, that’s abuse.”
“He didn’t make the effort to notify backup or call for a uniformed officer for what would have been nothing more than even an alleged misdemeanor on the road … and you’ve got him resorting to extreme physical violence to hurt Mr. Branch,” said Marc Kohnen, Branch’s attorney.
“I feel like he might do this again to somebody else. After that, I don’t believe he should be on the streets for that. I feel like he should get time for that,” said Branch.
Team 10 contacted the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office regarding the incident, and a spokesperson said the office was reviewing the case to see if criminal charges against either party is warranted.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department issued the following report on the incident involving Ward and Branch:
On Monday, May 4, 2015, at about 5:30 p.m., San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Detective Paul Ward was returning to Sheriff’s Administrative Offices after conducting an interview in East County. Detective Ward was on duty at the time. As he was preceding west bound on I-8, in the area of I-125, he observed a vehicle coming up behind him at a high rate of speed. The car swerved to the left, driving onto the dirt center median, fishtailed, and narrowly missed colliding with Detective Ward’s car. The car continued driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic, west bound on I-8. Detective Ward did not follow the car, but noticed it up ahead, when traffic slowed. He observed this vehicle take the College Avenue exit and he began to follow at that point.
The car ultimately stopped and parked in the driveway of a residence in the 6300 block of Lambda Drive. Detective Ward and the driver of the other car, 25-year-old Robert Branch, exited their respective vehicles. Detective Ward verbally identified himself to Branch as a San Diego Deputy Sheriff and produced his badge and identification card. Branch was wearing a black tactical vest with “Security” on the front with an attached gun holster.
Detective Ward asked Branch for his license and registration, at which time Branch became agitated, uncooperative, and refused to comply with Detective Ward’s request. Branch claimed Detective Ward was not on duty.
Detective Ward attempted to check Branch for weapons, however, Branch physically resisted those attempts. Detective Ward explained to Branch he was being detained, however, Branch refused to comply and began to walk away. At this point, Branch started to record the encounter on his cell phone. As Branch continued to resist, he turned his back to Detective Ward. Detective Ward could not see his hands or if Branch was reaching for a gun or other weapon from the front of his vest. At that point, Detective Ward applied the department-approved carotid-restraint to bring Branch under control. Detective Ward requested a passerby to call the police. Branch passed out for several seconds and then regained consciousness, where he continued to be uncooperative, hostile, and attempted to flee. Detective Ward again placed his arm around Branch in a carotid restraint position, but he did not apply pressure to render Branch unconscious.
Branch continued to struggle when Detective Ward observed Branch holding a canister of pepper spray in his hand. Detective Ward instructed Branch to drop the pepper spray, and at this time, Branch did relinquish it. Eventually, Branch calmed down, complied, and was instructed to sit on the curb and wait for the San Diego Police Department to arrive.
Branch complained of neck pain and to ensure he did not suffer any injury, paramedics were summoned. Branch was transported to Scripps Mercy Hospital for medical evaluation and was subsequently cleared to be booked into jail. Detective Ward was later treated for minor injuries.
Branch was booked into Central Jail for Resisting an Officer (felony) and Reckless Driving (misdemeanor). The case has been referred to the District Attorney’s Office for review and evaluation.
Any time force is used by a Deputy Sheriff, the incident is reviewed to determine if department policy was followed. This encompasses all elements of the situation, to include tactics.
Original Story Man Videotapes Sheriff’s Detective Arresting Him After “Road Rage” Incident
A San Diego man is fighting to get multiple criminal charges dismissed after a confrontation with a plain clothes detective, something his attorney called “road rage by police officer.”
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials say one of their detectives was on duty when he witnessed Robert Branch driving erratically and weaving in and out of traffic along I-8 near the 2nd Street exit at about 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 4.
“I got an arm around my neck and I’m getting choked out, choked out like he’s choking me so bad you can’t hear me breathe,” Branch said. “You can hear it in my voice that I’m trying to get air into my lungs.”
Branch was arrested and charged with felony obstruction of justice as well as reckless driving and resisting arrest. However, his attorney, Marc Kohnen, said those charges are a cover-up for the detective’s behavior.
When his car swerved and drove into the median, Branch claims it was because another car pushed him off the road. He later learned Sheriff’s Detective Paul Ward was behind the wheel of the unmarked car.
Branch said he exited I-8 at College Avenue to investigate something rattling in his trunk when he saw Ward pull up and park behind him.
Ward identified himself as a detective with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and asked to see Branch’s driver license and registration.
Branch told NBC 7 the detective showed a badge but no picture identification, wasn’t wearing a gun, handcuffs or a radio.
“I had a bad feeling about him,” Branch said. “I’m going to go ahead and video tape this for my safety.”
Sheriff’s officials say Branch “became agitated, uncooperative, and refused to comply with Detective Ward’s request.”
Branch himself admits he told Ward he would show him his license but not his registration. He also says he asked for a uniformed police officer to come to the scene.
What happened next was captured on Branch’s phone.
In the video, Branch repeatedly says “you cannot touch me” and tells Ward that he did not have lights on.
Then, the detective puts Branch in a chokehold.
Branch’s phone drops and stops recording video.
Sheriff’s officials say Branch was wearing a tactical vest with “security” written on it. When Ward attempted to check Branch for weapons, the young man turned away from the detective.
“I wanted regular police to come. I wanted them to handle the situation the way it should be,” Branch told NBC 7. “I really thought I was going to die.”
Branch admits he considered using the pepper spray he had in the vest.
“I’m thinking if I spray him, he might let me go but I didn’t because it might go into a different situation,” he said.
He said he asked Ward if he knew about the increased tension in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore and other places.
Both Ward and Branch claim they asked a bystander to call for help.
Eventually the San Diego Police were called and arrived to take Branch into custody.
Read the entire statement from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department here.
Kohnen said Det. Ward had nine miles to call for a uniformed patrol.
“Officer Ward had every opportunity to call for backup to diffuse the situation,” Kohnen said. “This would’ve been an entirely different outcome.”
Branch said he’s grateful he thought to record the encounter.
“If I didn’t have that video, I would probably be in jail,” Branch said. “That’s the new thing, everybody needs to start videotaping.