A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department was unable to comment on the outcome of the complaint.
In November 2015, three months after Branch filed his civil complaint and nearly eight months after the incident occurred, district attorney Bonnie Dumanis’s office filed criminal charges against Branch. The complaint charged Branch with a felony count of battery on an officer, a felony for resisting arrest and for threatening to use pepper spray on an officer, and misdemeanor counts for reckless driving and failure to provide a license and registration.
Four months later, in April 2016, the charge was amended to include additional felony charges stemming from a 2013 criminal complaint filed by a female acquaintance of Branch who says he threatened and stalked her. The additional charges appeared despite the fact that in 2013 the district attorney had decided not to pursue the case.
Branch’s criminal defense attorney Kohnen believes the district attorney is attempting to intimidate his client and retaliate against him for filing his civil lawsuit. Kohnen points to the fact that the initial 2013 stalking charges were once treated as a misdemeanor but now have been turned to felony counts. “This case is a clear misuse of prosecutorial discretion and undermines the integrity of the office,” says Kohnen, who took Branch’s case pro-bono. “Resurrecting the 2013 charges, previously rejected for prosecution, was only done as a distraction and to inflame the passions of a jury [to] be more prone to dislike my client at trial.”
As to the battery charges against his client, Kohnen believes that Ward became enraged on the freeway that day. His rage prevented him from calling police to report Branch and instead goaded him to take matters in his own hands.
“You have to think of the eternity of time that Ward had over the course of the nine-mile drive from where the vehicles nearly collided in El Cajon to the Del Cerro neighborhood.”
Kohnen adds. “He had ample opportunity to request for backup to assist with the process and to avoid any confusion. Conversely, think of the extremely brief amount of time Branch had to comprehend the situation before an arm went around his throat and began to choke him.
“Branch is the true victim here. That said, we knew that the District Attorney would never file charges against their own officer in this case.”
The district attorney’s pursuit of Branch goes further. According to court documents obtained by the Reader, the district attorney’s office began to follow Branch and his supporters at rallies, tracking their presence at court hearings, recording their speeches inside churches, and poring over Branch’s and his supporters’ Facebook pages.
Reverend Shane Harris is president of the National Action Network’s San Diego chapter. The 25-year-old pastor from Southeast San Diego has held several rallies for Branch in an attempt to raise awareness about the case.
“This case represents a failure in the criminal and judicial system in having the local district attorney be in charge of investigating local police,” Harris said during a March 24 interview. “It’s a major problem, and we see that so clearly in the Branch case. The district attorney is playing a game with these charges, one that shouldn’t be played, in order to prevent Branch’s civil case from moving forward. They don’t want to be held accountable.”
And while Kohnen and Harris rally against now-former district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Branch is unsure of his future. “I’m scared, it’s really all I can say. It’s changed my life,” Branch says over the phone, one day before his 27th birthday.
“I don’t want to go to prison for six to nine years for something I didn’t do. I have a daughter that I can’t see. I want to see her grow up. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I don’t know what can happen.”