A small contingent of protesters assembled downtown on Thursday afternoon (March 10) in anticipation of preliminary hearings for the criminal trial of Robert Branch, a security-guard accused of assaulting a sheriff's deputy after an apparent road-rage incident that involved deputy Paul Ward. Ward, allegedly referred to by colleagues as a "loose cannon," followed Branch in an unmarked car and placed him in a chokehold before eventually drawing a firearm.
The incident occurred in May 2015, when Ward allegedly swerved to block Branch's car from passing on an El Cajon onramp onto Interstate 8, sending Branch's car onto the shoulder. Ward then followed Branch for nearly ten miles. When Branch exited near San Diego State University (in the city of San Diego), Ward pulled over Branch’s car.
Approached by Ward — who was allegedly off-duty and not in uniform — Branch began recording the encounter, documenting his dispute that Ward was either not a law officer or was not acting in his official duties.
Sheriff's deputies do not typically conduct law-enforcement operations within the city of San Diego or on its highways, which are left to the San Diego Police Department and the California Highway Patrol, respectively.
The incident eventually led to Ward attempting to restrain Branch — the altercation partially recorded by Branch's phone. Branch subsequently filed a civil suit for illegal detention. District attorney Bonnie Dumanis's office responded with criminal charges against Branch, who at one point aimed a can of pepper spray from his securityguard equipment at Ward.
On March 10, protesters led by Shane Harris, local chair for Al Sharpton's National Action Network, launched their press conference with 20 minutes of chanting anti-Dumanis slogans against a backdrop of funk music, invoking slogans including "No justice, no peace!" and "Shame on Bonnie!"
"'Shame on Bonnie' is the beginning of a movement — we're not done yet," Harris told assembled media outside the Hall of Justice. "We're going to do what we've got to do to drive this hammer in the wall of injustice that Bonnie Dumanis has continued to criminalize black and brown communities of color."
Harris accused Dumanis of selective prosecution intended to further her political ambitions beyond San Diego.
"The city needs a just, transparent community review board on police practices, because what we have now is not working," said Ann Baron, representing Women Occupy San Diego, a group that has a proposal submitted to the city council seeking such an overhaul. "It is appalling that we have to be here. What happened to Mr. Branch should never have happened."
Harris concluded by "guaranteeing" a win on behalf of Branch, and promising to "continue to push your buttons" and to "bring hundreds down here for months until we see justice."