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The Killing of Branch Wroth

OPINION: The Killing of Branch Wroth

May 30, 2018

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OPEN LETTER to D.A. Jill Ravitch

I am Branch Wroth’s mother, Marni Wroth. I’m could not accept your invitation for a chit-chat before you released a statement to the press. I wish I had faith enough in our system to think that the press release would be objective and fair. Instead, it follows the pattern I have seen many times over: the report vilifies the victim of a police shooting, in this instance my son, with no understanding of who he was.

And, it vindicates the two officers, Sean Huot and David Sittig-Wattson, who killed him. Such has been the ongoing pattern of the DA’s office, an informal policy which allows police to operate with impunity. As such, I expect no justice to come from this meeting.

The heartache in this family is nearly unbearable, and some days we simply succumb. Branch’s father and I are forever broken; Branch’s siblings are still in disbelief. Friends devastated. Grief strangles us. If these cops and you could possibly grasp the great suffering you have caused, I believe, all of you would fall to your knees and cry and ask forgiveness.

The DA’s office will provide only a narrow accounting of what happened. But, real justice must address these questions and concerns, and many others.

1. Why would officers kill a man who was asking for medical assistance? 

Branch was in distress when officers arrived on the scene at the Budget Inn, and police officers reported that Branch stated he had been “poisoned.”

The reasoned, humane response would have been to call an ambulance. The police know basic first aid, but they lack the training and licensure to make a medical assessment. And yet they did just that, when they ignored Branch’s request for help. Instead, the officers, upon learning his name, discovered Branch had a misdeamenor, and became side -tracked from the medical emergency. By not seeking competent medical expertise, they placed Branch’s life in further danger. In short, there was no due diligence by the police to ensure the safety of my son.

2. Branch was tazed to death over a misdemeanor

The Taser’s manual states clearly that the product can cause death and great bodily harm, and these risks compound exponentially, “if someone is in medical distress.” Branch clearly was. My son is dead because the officers did not exhaust all other options before using a Taser. Let me repeat: they tazed and killed a man, who was harming no one, who was pleading for medical assistance. The FDA classifies Tasers as a firearm.

3. The DA’s office will focus on Branch and ignore the real question

I suspect you will call Branch’s death a tragedy, but you will never admit it was preventable, except to lay the blame at Branch’s feet. Your only responsibility is to determine whether the officers violated local state and federal laws. Instead, the issue must be: did the officers follow what should have been good, sensible policy when confronted with an individual in either a medical or mental health crisis? The officers carelessly chose to focus on compliance, when medical distress was the real issue.

4 . The County and Rohnert Park responses to police shootings lack human decency

Branch was killed around 3 p.m.; however, we did not know of his death until some eight hours later. We never saw our son’s body. We had to file in court to ensure the autopsy was videotaped, a necessary precaution since this County does not separate the Coroner’s office from the Sheriff’s.

Following the police-killing of Andy Lopez, a task force recommended a critical incident liaison be established to assist families in navigating a horrendous tragedy. No liaison exists, however. The silence surrounding my son’s death is bound, in part by legal constraints. But, the system has lost its basic humanity and denies shattered families even a modicum of compassion.

Branch was a son, a father, a brother, and an uncle and a friend to a great many people. He was respected, deeply loved and a great big heart of a man. My deepest hope is that truth will prevail. I know that takes a long time, sometimes, but just as in the Andy Lopez case, the real truth is coming to light, slowly but surely the truth will prevail for Branch also.

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