In court Monday, prosecutors explained why they say a San Diego County Sheriff’s detective got into a controversial altercation with a suspect, who is now suing the department for excessive force.
During his preliminary hearing, Robert Branch, 25, heard the prosecution describe why he should go to trial on felony charges of resisting an executive officer and attempting to use tear gas on an officer.
Branch started recording cellphone video of the May 4 incident after pulling over on a residential street in the Del Cerro area. He claims that the detective, who was not in uniform and was driving an unmarked car, did not identify himself and began to choke him for no reason.
But Deputy District Attorney (DDA) Michael Runyon said the altercation started well before Branch began recording, “when the defendant almost struck his vehicle due to his speeding and erratic driving.” At that point, the detective began to follow him.
When Branch pulled over, the detective identified himself, showed his badge and asked for Branch’s license and registration, according to Runyon. The DDA said Branch refused and began to use his hands to keep the officer away.
“The detective parked behind him and saw the defendant exit his vehicle wearing a tactical vest with the word ‘security’ across it,” said Runyon, “and it had numerous pockets that could potentially conceal a variety of weapons."
The detective asked to search Branch for weapons, but the defendant responded by allegedly pulling out a can of pepper spray, the DDA said. In the video, Branch is heard repeatedly telling the detective that he has no right to touch him.
The official then puts his arm around Branch’s neck, and the phone drops, fading to black. The defendant was soon arrested and later released.
Branch has since filed an excessive force lawsuit against the county, which is on hold until the allegations against him are resolved.
“Certainly what's said in court is not evidence at this point,” said Branch’s attorney Marc Kohnen. “Evidence is sworn testimony by witnesses, so there's been representations made at this point. However I still believe it's a strong trial case."
An officer in an unmarked car pulling someone over is not against the law. But there's nothing that says you can't call 911 to ask for a marked patrol car to come to you before you stop.
Branch will be back in court in the coming weeks, but the judge will not determine if the case goes to trial until later in the spring.