Twenty-five-year-old Robert Branch has filed a lawsuit against sheriff's detective Paul Ward for putting him in a "carotid-restraint" and illegally detaining him in May 2015, after their cars nearly collided while merging onto Interstate 8 in El Cajon.
Video of the incident, captured on Branch's cell phone, made headlines and has since been posted on YouTube.
According to the lawsuit, Branch attempted to pass Ward's gray, unmarked Ford Fusion on the westbound on-ramp near 2nd Street in El Cajon. While doing so, Ward swerved to block him, sending Branch onto the shoulder.
Unbeknownst to Branch, Ward followed him for nine miles without any lights or sirens on. Branch exited the freeway at College Avenue in La Mesa after hearing a rattling sound from the rear of his vehicle. While stopped to check the sound, Ward pulled up behind him.
Ward identified himself as a sheriff’s detective and asked to see Branch's license and registration. Branch, however, says Ward was dressed in civilian clothes and did not have a radio, gun, or handcuffs on him, nothing to confirm that he was an on-duty officer. Ward warned Branch that he could go to jail for reckless driving if he did not turn over his license. Branch began recording the incident on his cell phone.
To the carotid
After pressing record, Branch began to describe the scene.
"Look it, right now, I'm in La Mesa."
The camera then catches Ward approaching Branch and standing behind him with a smirk on his face.
Continued Branch. "You see this officer, right now, he does not have his lights on..."
That's when Ward grabs him.
"You are being detained," the detective says. "Sit down."
Branch tells Ward not to touch him.
"You cannot touch me," Branch says. "You cannot touch me."
Ward spins Branch around and wraps his arm around Branch's throat.
Branch can be heard wheezing, gasping for air.
The video, although blacked out after the phone hit the ground, continues for several minutes. On several occasions Branch tells Ward that he is harassing him.
"I told you it was my fault," Branch yelled after being thrown to the ground. "You're harassing me. You cannot do that. Your lights [are] not on. You are off-duty. You cannot do that. You cannot grab me like this."
Branch, who was headed to work as a security guard, then aimed a canister of pepper spray at Ward. Ward put him in another chokehold. After Branch succumbed, Ward pointed his gun at Branch.
"You're going to put a gun on me?" yelled Branch. "I'm scared of you right now. I think I am going to die. Don't you know what's going on in Baltimore..."
"I don't care about Baltimore," Ward responded.
Upon arriving at the scene, San Diego police officers arrested Branch for a felony offense of resisting arrest.
Detective a "loose cannon"
According to the lawsuit, detective Ward had been known to have violent fits of rage. On June 17, 2014, a fellow sheriff's detective filed a formal complaint against Ward, claiming Ward committed battery against him.
"The complaining detective reported that Ward’s actions had become 'increasingly erratic and that [Ward’s] hostile behavior is progressing.' The complaining detective told the Internal Affairs division that he believed Ward to be a 'loose cannon' and that Ward was going to hurt somebody."
Branch and his attorneys are asking that the sheriff's department adopt new policies in regard to chokeholds and other neck restraints, in addition to "punitive and treble damages."