A San Diego man is fighting to get multiple criminal charges dismissed after a confrontation with a plain clothes detective, something his attorney called “road rage by police officer.”
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials say one of their detectives was on duty when he witnessed Robert Branch driving erratically and weaving in and out of traffic along I-8 near the 2nd Street exit at about 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 4.
Branch, 25, videotaped his arrest and shared it with NBC 7 Thursday, claiming he was put in a chokehold that caused him to pass out.
“I got an arm around my neck and I’m getting choked out, choked out like he’s choking me so bad you can’t hear me breathe,” Branch said. “You can hear it in my voice that I’m trying to get air into my lungs.”
Branch was arrested and charged with felony obstruction of justice as well as reckless driving and resisting arrest. However, his attorney, Marc Kohnen, said those charges are a cover-up for the detective’s behavior.
When his car swerved and drove into the median, Branch claims it was because another car pushed him off the road. He later learned Sheriff’s Detective Paul Ward was behind the wheel of the unmarked car.
Branch said he exited I-8 at College Avenue to investigate something rattling in his trunk when he saw Ward pull up and park behind him.
Ward identified himself as a detective with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and asked to see Branch’s driver license and registration.
Branch told NBC 7 the detective showed a badge but no picture identification, wasn’t wearing a gun, handcuffs or a radio.
“I had a bad feeling about him,” Branch said. “I’m going to go ahead and video tape this for my safety.”
Sheriff’s officials say Branch “became agitated, uncooperative, and refused to comply with Detective Ward's request.”
Branch himself admits he told Ward he would show him his license but not his registration. He also says he asked for a uniformed police officer to come to the scene.
What happened next was captured on Branch’s phone.
In the video, Branch repeatedly says “you cannot touch me” and tells Ward that he did not have lights on.
Then, the detective puts Branch in a chokehold.
Branch’s phone drops and stops recording video.
Sheriff’s officials say Branch was wearing a tactical vest with “security” written on it. When Ward attempted to check Branch for weapons, the young man turned away from the detective.
“Detective Ward could not see his hands or if Branch was reaching for a gun or other weapon from the front of his vest. At that point, Detective Ward applied the department-approved carotid-restraint to bring Branch under control,” sheriff’s department officials said in a statement.
“I wanted regular police to come. I wanted them to handle the situation the way it should be,” Branch told NBC 7. “I really thought I was going to die.”
Branch admits he considered using the pepper spray he had in the vest.
“I’m thinking if I spray him, he might let me go but I didn’t because it might go into a different situation,” he said.
He said he asked Ward if he knew about the increased tension in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore and other places.
Both Ward and Branch claim they asked a bystander to call for help.
Eventually the San Diego Police were called and arrived to take Branch into custody.
Read the entire statement from the San Diego Sheriff's Department here.
Kohnen said Det. Ward had nine miles to call for a uniformed patrol.
“Officer Ward had every opportunity to call for backup to diffuse the situation,” Kohnen said. “This would’ve been an entirely different outcome.”
Branch said he’s grateful he thought to record the encounter.
“If I didn’t have that video, I would probably be in jail,” Branch said. “That’s the new thing, everybody needs to start videotaping.”