Security guard who recorded struggle with off-duty officer acquitted of all charges
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Robert Branch III was acquitted Friday of felony and misdemeanor charges of resisting an executive officer, attempted use of pepper spray, reckless driving and failure to provide his driver’s license and registration.
Branch III, 27, is a security guard who was wearing a tactical vest when he was pulled over and put in a choke hold by a sheriff’s detective in Del Cerro.
Hetold reporters after the verdict that now-retired sheriff’s Detective Paul Ward seemed like a good guy. but didn’t follow policy and procedures on May 4, 2015.
Branch pulled out his cell phone and recorded much of the interchange because he didn’t believe Ward — who was dressed in plainclothes — was on duty.
“If it wasn’t for that video, I’d probably be locked up right now because they’d be taking his testimony against mine,” Branch said outside court. “If I didn’t have that video, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
Deputy District Attorney Michael Runyon told the jury in his closing argument that Branch had a duty to comply with Ward once Ward showed him his badge.
Branch refused to hand over his license and registration, and was still recording when Ward told him he was being detained and applied a carotid hold to Branch’s neck, rendering the defendant unconscious for a brief time, the prosecutor said.
“You cannot touch me!” Branch is heard telling Ward in the video recording, which was replayed for the jury. “Can you call the police? You’re harassing me! Do you know what’s going on in the world right now? This is abuse. Your lights are not on! I’m going to spray you if you don’t let go!”
The defendant revived and broke away from a wrist-lock, pulled out a canister of pepper spray out of his vest and aimed it at the officer, Runyon
alleged. The prosecutor said Ward used reasonable and lawful force in his efforts to detain Branch.
A witness who was near his family home saw the altercation and called 911 at Ward’s request, and Branch was arrested when San Diego police officers arrived at the scene.
Defense attorney Marc Kohnen told the jury that Branch had his driver’s license in his hand during the incident and dropped it on the ground when Ward subdued him.
Kohnen said Ward lied when he told investigators that he found Branch’s license and registration in the defendant’s car.
“Mr. Ward had to come up with something to justify his actions,” Kohnen told the jury. “This is not a lawful arrest. This is road rage by cop.”
The defense attorney said Ward escalated the situation by deciding to go “all-cowboy” on Branch.
According to Runyon, Ward’s unmarked Ford Fusion was almost hit from behind that afternoon by a gold Infiniti traveling at a high rate of speed on westbound Interstate 8.
Ward saw the Infiniti weaving in and out of traffic and ultimately got behind the car and followed the driver — Branch — off the freeway and into the residential neighborhood, the prosecutor said.
Branch still faces felony charges of making a criminal threat and stalking from a separate incident involving a woman in 2013. A status conference is scheduled in that case on June 29.