San Diego

Man in Controversial Chokehold Case Found Not Guilty

Robert Branch faced charges of reckless driving, resisting arrest and attempting to pepper spray an officer

A San Diego man accused of trying to pepper-spray a plainclothes San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) detective during a confrontation in 2015 was acquitted of all charges by a jury Friday.

Robert Branch was bound over for trial last year and faced charges of reckless driving, resisting arrest and attempting to pepper-spray an officer.

Branch told NBC 7, he was nervous and scared as the jury delivered their verdict Friday.

"I can still feel my heart pounding," he said.

On May 4, 2015, Branch was involved in an altercation with now-retired SDSO Det. Paul Ward in Del Cerro during a traffic stop. Ward was not in uniform and was driving an unmarked car.

Branch videotaped the incident on his cellphone and shared it with media.

But prosecutors said Branch was speeding and driving erratically when he almost struck the detective’s car. 

Branch had been wearing a tactical vest and was non-compliant during the traffic stop, Ward previously testified. 

However, Branch claimed the detective used excessive force during the traffic stop when he put Branch into a chokehold.

"A lot of police out there are actually pretty good--some that are bad," he said. "They don't really need to be working. They need to be fired but there are actually a lot of cops out there doing a lot of good things."

Branch added he was glad he videotaped the incident because he believes it helped him get acquitted.

"If it wasn't for that video, I'd probably be locked up right now cause they'd be taking his testimony against mine," he said.

It was a sentiment that some others also agreed with.

"Thank God that Mr. Branch had his video camera on him," said Chris Garnier from Activist For Justice.

He added: "In the future, just keep doing the same thing. If I encounter a police officer, maybe that officer could be a good never know. Just videotape everything."

Michael Runyon, Deputy District Attorney, said regardless of whether you encounter an officer in uniform or not, show respect and obey the law.

"Whether you're on-duty or off-duty, plainclothes or uniformed, law enforcement officers still have full police powers," Runyon told NBC 7.

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