Sheriff's lights

A Petaluma man, David Glen Ward, 52, was driving through west county in his own car in the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 27, when he was mistaken for a carjacker and died after a struggle with Sonoma County sheriffs and Sebastopol police.

Ward had reported his car stolen in a carjacking incident earlier that week. It is unclear how he got the car back, but the Sheriff’s Office said he hadn’t reported to them that the car had been returned.

What happened that morning is still shrouded in mystery, but the Santa Rosa Police Department’s Nixle is clear in its chronology.

At around 5:41 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 27, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center received information from an off-duty Santa Rosa Police detective regarding a stolen car.

Ward’s car had been stolen in an unincorporated area of west Sonoma County on Nov. 24, and the theft was still under investigation by the Sheriff’s Office. The detective advised that the stolen car was near the area of Frei Road and Guerneville Road.

Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Little, a 12-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, located the vehicle and, at approximately 5:54 a.m., attempted to stop the car in area of Bloomfield Road and Murray Road.

Two Sebastopol police officers, Andrew Bauer and Ethan Stockton, who had also responded to the call, were in their patrol vehicles behind Little.

Little could not see inside of the vehicle and did not know the number or the identity of the occupants inside the car. He was using extreme caution because the suspect in the Nov. 24 carjacking had been in possession of a firearm.

What the deputy didn’t know was that the driver, David Ward, was not the car thief, but the legal owner of the car.

After stopping initially, Ward drove off, and the deputy and officers pursued him.

Little attempted to perform a “pursuit intervention technique,” known as a PIT maneuver, using his patrol car to abruptly turn the fleeing car sideways, causing the car to stop. 

According to the Nixle report, though Ward stopped momentarily, he accelerated again and drove onward. 

The pursuit lasted approximately seven minutes and reached an estimated top speed of over 70 miles per hour on the narrow back roads of the Bloomfield area.

The pursuit ended around 6:02 a.m. when the vehicle was stopped at Sutton Road and boxed in by Little and the Sebastopol Police officers.  

Deputy Charlie Blount, who has been with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for 19 years, was the next deputy on scene, arriving within minutes after the pursuit ended.

Blount, Little and the Sebastopol police officers approached the vehicle. 

They ordered Ward to open the door, but he did not. Officers said Ward put his hands up but continued to lower them out of the view of officers. Ward eventually rolled down the window but did not open the door. 

The officers were unaware that Ward, who was severely injured in an accident with a drunk driver several years ago, had difficulty talking and even walking, according to relatives, who spoke to other local papers.

The officers attempted to get Ward out of the vehicle by removing him through the driver’s window, but they were unsuccessful.

At one point during the struggle, the deputies and officers struck Ward several times with what the Nixle called “personal body weapons.” Ward reportedly bit Little and Blount.

After several minutes of struggling to remove Ward from the vehicle, Deputy Little drew his Taser and deployed it at Ward through the open driver’s window. Deputies report that the Taser was not effective and that Ward continued to struggle. 

Almost immediately after Ward was tasered, Blount, who was outside next to the driver’s door, reached in and placed one of his arms around Ward’s neck in an attempt to administer a carotid restraint, which is a way of controlling a combative person by placing pressure on the carotid artery, causing the person to lose consciousness.

Moments later, Sebastopol Police Officer Stockton broke the front passenger window of the vehicle with his baton and opened the passenger door. Ward was then removed from the vehicle through the passenger door, and they placed him in handcuffs on the ground.

At approximately 6:10 a.m., a deputy on scene advised the dispatch center that Ward did not appear to be breathing, and they started CPR. An ambulance arrived on the scene at 6:21 a.m. and transported Ward to the Petaluma Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:17 a.m.

The Sheriff’s Office invoked the county’s critical incident protocol. Santa Rosa Police Department is investigating the incident, and the Marin County Coroner’s Office is conducting the death investigation.

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