A 25-year-old man video recorded himself getting placed in a chokehold by a plainclothes San Diego sheriff’s deputy who was driving an unmarked car in what the man’s lawyer says is a case of “road rage.”
However, San Diego sheriff’s officials claim Paul Ward of the department’s Child Abuse Unit was only trying to issue a traffic citation to the man, even though he never turned on any emergency lights or siren.
But Ward started fearing for his life when he noticed Robert Branch holding a can of pepper spray in his hand, according to a sheriff’s spokesperson.
Branch, who was wearing a vest with the word “security” across it, said he was on his way to work as a security guard when he got into a driving altercation with the deputy on the interstate.
Another citizen witnessed the incident, but forgot to record it.
The incident in question started several minutes earlier on Interstate 8. Branch said around 5 p.m., he was merging onto I-8 near 2nd Street going west, when he nearly missed a Ford Fusion that was merging into his lane.
The 25-year-old said he had to swerve onto the dirt shoulder to avoid a crash. The driver of the Fusion was Detective Paul Ward.
According to (sheriff’s spokesperson) Caldwell, Ward observed the 25-year-old driving erratically, and the maneuver onto the shoulder sent rocks and debris into the deputy’s open window.
Branch drove for another nine miles, not realizing Ward was following him in an unmarked car. When he eventually stopped, he said he was stunned to see Ward pull up behind him.
“I guess he wanted to get revenge. That’s how I see it,” Branch said.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, the detective was trying to issue Branch a citation and restrained him only after Branch became aggressive.
“I think it was road rage,” said his defense attorney Marc Kohnen.
Robert Branch was booked in jail on charges of felony obstruction of justice, reckless driving, and resisting arrest.
The video uploaded to Youtube is almost ten minutes, but goes dark within 30 seconds after Branch drops the phone as he is struggling to breath in the chokehold.
The phone continues recording, capturing the verbal exchange, including a part where Branch shouts, “I love you, mom,” in the case he died.
Pablo Martinez, who alleges he witnessed the incident from just feet away, seems to endorse Branch’s story.“He (Branch) kept on telling him (Ward), ‘Who are you?’
He kept on asking him, ‘Who are you? Show me something that tells me who you are.’ And the guy just wouldn’t show him.
If he was a deputy, that’s news to me.”Martinez says he watched Ward manhandle Branch, taking him down to the ground twice.
“The kid (Branch) never threw a punch or nothing,” Martinez said. “He just didn’t want him to touch him. And the officer kept on grabbing him.”
“I thought the guy (Ward) was a criminal,” Martinez adds. “If he wasn’t a criminal, then man, that’s abuse.”
It is unfortunate Martinez did not think to record the incident because it does appear that Ward was acting out of personal spite instead of public safety.
After all, why would a detective of the Child Abuse Unit try to pull a man over for a traffic citation without calling for backup after following him for nine miles?