Sonoma County prosecutors Wednesday dismissed a resisting-arrest and assault case against a 28-year-old Forestville man who was subdued by several jail officers and shocked with a Taser multiple times on the jail floor as he was being booked on a drunken-driving charge.
Esa Wroth entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor drunken-driving charge and was given credit for time served by Commissioner Jennifer Dollard.
The plea deal came as trial was set to begin on 11 charges, including a DUI and two felonies: resisting arrest and assaulting a correctional officer.
A recording of the incident was posted online by Wroth’s defense attorney, who characterized the behavior as “horrible brutality.”
The 29-minute recording, taken by a jail employee, shows Wroth being punched and kicked by correctional deputies, who also shocked him numerous times with a Taser in an effort, they say, to subdue him.
Jail officials said the level of force was appropriate given Wroth’s aggressive behavior when he was receiving a routine medical check upon entry to the jail. They said the intoxicated man ripped off a blood-pressure cuff, pulled a pulse monitor from his finger and attempted to bowl over a nurse.
Deputies tackled him and were preparing to put him in a restraint chair when he began physically resisting them, the department said.
Wroth pulled out the Taser’s barbs, tried to grab a Taser and attempted to bite a deputy, the department said. Ultimately, Wroth was restrained without serious injury to himself or deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Wroth’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger of Santa Rosa, claimed “absolute victory” with the dismissal, vowing to file a federal lawsuit against the county within a day for alleged violations of Wroth’s civil rights.
“They have an awful lot of explaining to do,” Schwaiger said, adding that he believed media coverage pressed prosecutors into dismissing the case — in addition to the current protests about perceived police brutality in cases nationwide.
“They didn’t want to be cast in the same light,” he said.
He said there were “a ton of felonies committed — but none by my client.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said the resisting arrest and assault case — filed as a felony by Schwaiger’s current law partner, former prosecutor Victoria Shanahan — couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a Sonoma County jury.
In the end, Wroth pleaded to a charge that can be used as a prior DUI if he is arrested again, Staebell said.
“We looked at the totality of the circumstances and felt we were not going to be able to prove to 12 people that he resisted law enforcement,” he said. “We looked at the climate of the day.”
Wroth maintained he was a passenger, not the driver. He told authorities the driver was a friend of his, whom he didn’t name, and who ran off after their vehicle crashed on Jan. 2, 2013. The pair had been out drinking at the Forestville Club.
It would have been difficult to prove Wroth was driving, Staebell said, and much of the alleged resisting and assault occurred before the recording began.
“That’s a central issue,” Staebell said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, staff followed standard practice in recording the video when Wroth became physically aggressive.
Wroth had a blood-alcohol level of 0.21 percent —almost three times the legal limit — about three hours after his arrest. Staebell said he continued to be resistant to treatment at the hospital.
You can reach Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com.
November 19, 2014 Story
Esa Wroth was wasted. He doesn’t dispute that.
But the 28-year-old Forestville man says he didn’t deserve what happened last year when he was arrested in Sonoma County on drunken-driving charges.
While he was being booked into the jail, the solar company consultant says, correctional deputies slammed him to the ground for no good reason. They punched and kicked him and shot him 20 times with electric stun guns.
The incident was captured in part in a 29-minute video that Wroth’s lawyer said is an alarming example of police brutality. It will be played next month to jurors when Wroth is tried on suspicion of assaulting a correctional deputy, resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated.
Warning: Half-hour long video contains profanity
“It’s tantamount to torture,” Wroth’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said Tuesday. “From beginning to end, they are beating him. It’s just brutal.”
Jail officials said the level of force was appropriate given Wroth’s aggressive behavior when he was receiving a routine medical check upon entry to the jail.
Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker on Wednesday said the intoxicated man ripped off a blood-pressure cuff, pulled a pulse monitor from his finger and then backed into a nurse, attempting to bowl the nurse over.
Deputies tackled him to the floor and were preparing to put him in a restraint chair when he began physically resisting them, Walker said.
Deputies punched Wroth and shot him with Taser guns to get him to stop but he continued to struggle, Walker said.
At one point he pulled out the electric barbs, tried to grab a Taser gun and attempted to bite a deputy, Walker said.
Deputies responded with more control “strikes” and Taser shots, Walker said.
“Their actions are all reactions to his physical resistance,” Walker said.
Ultimately, Wroth was restrained without injury to himself or deputies, Walker said.
Prosecutors charged Wroth with felony assault on a correctional officer, but a judge reduced the allegations to misdemeanors after a preliminary hearing.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell declined to comment, citing the pending trial.
The night of the incident, Jan. 2, 2013, Wroth had been drinking at the Forestville Club.
When it was time to go home, Wroth maintains he handed his keys to an unnamed friend, who got behind the wheel and drove the two of them away from the club.
Somewhere on River Road, the friend crashed the car and fled on foot, Schwaiger said. Wroth stayed behind and was arrested on drunken-driving charges. Tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.21 percent — or more than twice the legal limit — about three hours after his arrest.
During booking, correctional deputies found Wroth was not following instructions and knocked him to the floor, Schwaiger said.
The video, made by a jail employee, begins as Wroth is being held face-down on the ground. It does not show what led up to the altercation. Walker said staff followed standard practice in recording the video when Wroth became physically aggressive. Schwaiger obtained the video from prosecutors.
It opens as four deputies are on his back and legs, trying to put shackles around his waist. Wroth complains, tries to roll over and is punched repeatedly in the back. As the struggle continues, deputies pull Taser guns and shoot him, shouting commands to stop resisting.
“Quit moving!” a deputy yells. “You’re going to get it again, you hear me?”
More Taser shots are fired and Wroth screams. A nurse is called when an electric barb gets stuck in his skin.
Near the end of the video, he is placed on a stretcher and carried outside to a waiting ambulance.
Schwaiger said he counted 20 independent Taser shots, 16 punches, a kick and two “knee drops.” Wroth had bruises covering his body, a black eye and wrist pain that he still feels today.
“He looks like he did a couple of rounds with Rocky,” the lawyer said.
Walker said Wroth suffered a face injury in the crash. Fights with drunk people are common, but the number of Taser deployments on Wroth was unusual, Walker said.
Still, he said he found that deputies did nothing wrong.
“Force doesn’t look good,” Walker said. “But he’s not injured.”
Wroth faces up to three years in jail if he is convicted at trial, set for Dec. 11.
Schwaiger said he is troubled by the fact that the video was reviewed by jail officials who found deputies acted within department regulations. He said military jailers in Iraq are held to higher standards.
“If this happens in a war zone, it is a war crime,” Schwaiger said. “If it happens in Sonoma County, it’s according to policy.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source Press Democrat: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3129472-181/man-shocked-20-times-during?page=0