April 18, 2016 (San Diego) The court room presided by Judge Kenneth K. So continued with the examination of witness John Hudnall who saw the confrontation between San Diego Sherriffs Detective Paul Ward and Robert Branch on May of 2015.
The questioning was done by Assistant District Attorney Michael Runyon. The issue over the course of the morning session was the time line of what Hudnall saw, and the timeline of the 911 call placed by Hudnall.
The incident started on Interstate 8 and ended on Lamda Drive where San Diego Police ended effecting the actual arrest. A San Diego Sheriff’s officer took over custody of Branch at the scene from SDPD.
Today’s hearing went around the sequence of events at the scene, with a second by second direction of both the 911 call and the video recorded by Branch on his cell phone. During the morning session, Runyon pressed Hudnall as to his recollection of events.
Runyon first established that Branch wore a black tactical vest, which made Hudnall somewhat uncomfortable since he is not used to seeing them outside of law enforcement or military activities. Also that the vest had a holster as well as other utility pockets. That said, Hudnall never saw a visible gun out of it. Also he identified the tactical vest that Branch wore.
Hudnall was also asked whether Branch was aggressive, and the DA was told that Branch seemed “agitated, not aggressive at that point.” This was confined on the cross examination by defense lawyer Marc Kohnen. He was also able to establish that Branch asked Hudnall to call 911 before Detective Ward did such.
Hudnall added to both the DA and the defense, that he was trying to calm Branch down, to keep this situation from escalating. Also that he had his cell phone out before he was told by either party to call 911. This was because at first he had no idea what was going on, and was intending to record the event.
One of the central questions posed by both the people and the defense was whether Branch asked him to call 911 first, or not. Also why Hudnall used words like we, when speaking to the dispatcher. These words were seen as empathy for Detective Ward. This was a point made clearly by the people.
Over the course of the morning, and later the afternoon session, the 911 dispatch tape, and the recording from Branch were part of the question, though they do match at several points, providing confirmation on the time line.
One of the questions that lead to some reenactment was what happened right before Branch was put on the first of two carotid holds. The People pressed him on this point, to establish whether he could see the action or not. This led to the reenactment of the whole event, using the court room as a proxy for the scene. In the end, the people was able to establish that Hudnall was not able to see fully the first carotid restraint.
What Hudnall was able to see, was that Branch came back confused and disoriented. The examination by both defense and the people established this.
The other aspect that because into question was the reason why Hudnall returned the service gun that Detective Ward at one point lost control off. The witness said that while he did not fully trust that Ward was na officer, and that remained at doubt. he still gave it back. This was after much pressure from the defense. The people established that he did trust the officer. Though Hudnall did secure the pepper spray canister, that remained on the hood of his car until recored by SPDP. He did not want either man to have a weapon available for fear of escalation.
San Diego Police Officer Mark Gasteier who responded to the 911 call told the court that Branch was cooperative. He also added that when he arrived on scene, Ward was standing behind Branch, with a civilian (Hudnall), to the side. He believed that Ward had his hand on Branch’s shoulder. He was also holding his badge that he held in his wallet. Nor had he ever met Ward as part of his law enforcement career.
Branch stated to the officer that he wanted to be put in cuffs, and to be take away from Ward. He compiled with getting cuffed and did not resist in any manner. Medics were called since Branch complained of neck pain, as if it was burning. He also had a fresh scrape on his arm, though not which arm.
Medics cleared him, or SDPD would have had him transported to the Emergency Room, with them following. After that he was transferred to the custody of a Sheriff’s officer, from the Lemon Grove station, the SDPD officer believes.
The final person to take the stand was Detective Ward. It was the cross examination from his statements a few days ago (We were not able to attend that hearing). During this cross, the defense repeatedly questioned Ward, with many objections from the People, whether he could understand why Branch did not recognize him as a law enforcement officer. They went so far as to ask about his certification to be an officer three decades ago.
One point of concern that the defense also brought up was that Ward followed Branch for about 9 miles, from the 2nd avenue onramp to 8 West, to College Avenue in San Diego, and finally ending at Lamda Drive. The defense pressed Ward on the fact that he was not wearing a uniform, or that his vehicle looked like a police vehicle. He is a plains clothes detective, and that gave Branch pause. They also pressed him on his abilities to communicate and defuse the situation.
Branch faces felony and misdemeanor charges over the incident and could face up to 4 years in custody. Branch also filed charges in Federal court back in October against the County of San Diego for violation of his civil rights and the use of excessive force by Detective Ward.
The next hearing is tomorrow at San Diego Superior Court.