Hearing of ex-Sonoma County MP Charles Blount focuses on ground rules of manslaughter trial

Prosecutors and defense attorneys were in Sonoma County Superior Court Friday morning to set some parameters for the upcoming trial of former Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Blount, who is charged with manslaughter in the 2019 murder of the Bloomfield resident David Ward during a traffic stop.

The pre-trial hearing in Justice Robert LaForge’s courtroom primarily focused on whether Ward’s past contact with law enforcement could be considered during the trial and jury selection process. .

Blount, who sat silently in the courtroom, faces charges of manslaughter and assault by a peace officer in connection with the November 27, 2019 traffic shutdown that resulted in Ward’s death. He is the first police officer to stand trial on manslaughter for murder while on duty in Sonoma County.

Defense attorneys Harry Stern and Andrew Ganz have also asked LaForge to consider opening the confidential personal files of two prominent witnesses for the prosecution – Sheriff Mark Essick and Deputy Sheriff Jim Naugle. Both officials have previously blamed Blount for his conduct during the incident. Essick called it “extremely disturbing”

The information in these files could serve the defense, according to the petition.

The two-hour hearing dealt with the first half of the trial brief filed by prosecutors Robert Waner and Robert Rasp. The document set out the prosecution’s requests in limine, requests made to the judge before a jury was present to exclude certain testimonies from the trial.

The hearing was in a friendly tone, with the lawyers exchanging jokes and agreeing on many of the proposed limitations.

However, the points of contention provide a glimpse of what to expect in the upcoming trial.

Stern and Ganz protested the prosecution’s motion to ban discussions of Ward’s history of interactions with police before the jury. Waner’s brief lists four contacts recorded with agents between 2012 and 2019. The court record available on Friday did not show the outcome of those meetings, if any.

“Each of these events is associated with information that could be relevant to Mr. Ward’s conduct,” said Stern, for example, “his propensity to use methamphetamine which has been a driving force in his conduct.”

But officers involved in the shutdown were unaware Ward was driving the car, according to body-worn camera footage – so any information about his past encounters with law enforcement is irrelevant. , Waner said.

“The court will never hear us say that Mr. Ward did not abuse methamphetamine,” he said.

Family members said he was in poor physical and mental health, and the Marin County coroner’s office said in his autopsy report that he was chronically using drugs.

“We’re certainly not going to allow the defense to smear Mr. Ward.”

The defense has argued in the past that Ward’s drug use and non-conforming behavior led to his own death.

Ward had reported the theft of his vehicle before the morning of November 27, but failed to alert authorities that he had picked it up when MPs tried to stop him, investigators said. He did not give in immediately and led the MPs in a short chase through West County.

Body-worn camera video shows that after finally pulling over near his home in Bloomfield and failing to obey the car’s exit commands, Blount reached out through the car window, a put Ward in a neck hold and slammed his head under the door. Another deputy, Jason Little, shocked the man with a stun gun.

Ward was handcuffed and to the ground minutes later when officers began trying to resuscitate him to no avail. The Marin County Coroner ruled Ward’s death a homicide, concluding that he died of cardiopulmonary bypass, blunt injuries, a neck band and the use of a stun gun caused by a “physical confrontation with the police”.

LaForge tabled some of the motions for further discussion, but barred lawyers from discussing previous encounters with law enforcement in front of the jury.

The selection of the jury is due to start on Thursday morning. Lawyers debated the written questions the defense wants to ask potential jurors early in the process.

The questionnaire gives both parties basic information about the candidates for the jury and their possible biases or conflicts of interest.

Prosecutors specifically considered questions designed to assess people’s feelings towards law enforcement. Waner argued, for example, that asking would-be jurors whether they have closely followed controversies over the use of force by the police would not show whether people had extreme feelings for or against the forces of order.

“Kyle Rittenhouse, Derek Chauvin, Ahmaud Arbery – probably most of us in this room have been following these cases,” Waner said.

Stern responded that including the question in the poll would allow potential jurors to be “more candid” when responding on paper and in private. This would remove those with strong positions from the jury roll very early on, which would save time later.

“It goes straight to a potential bias. And having it in the quiz sanitizes it somewhat instead of having a long debate… or a scream between jurors, ”Stern said.

LaForge told the two lawyers he would review their arguments over the weekend. He is set to rule on other pre-trial motions in Courtroom 1 on Monday afternoon. The testimony is scheduled to begin on January 3, 2022.

You can contact editor Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or [email protected] On Twitter @ vv1lder.

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