.The Killing of Branch Wroth

A death that didn't have to happen

On May 12, the son of my good friends, Marni and Chris Wroth, was killed by Rohnert Park police.

Branch Wroth was in distress. Instead of being helped, he was killed. Despite the instructions of the Taser manufacturer, that people who exhibit “extreme agitation” or “violent irrational behavior” may be “at an increased risk of sudden death,” Branch was Tasered. Eight and a half years ago, Rohnert Park police killed Guy Fernandez for the same reasons, the same way.

Recently, on the street a few doors from my house in Santa Rosa, a man started screaming. He was clearly having a mental break. The Santa Rosa police and an ambulance showed up. The police and EMTs spoke with him very gently, very calmly. It went on for a long time. He even ripped boards from a neighbor’s fence trying to escape. They stayed calm. They never hurt him. He was still screaming as they closed the ambulance doors, but nobody was harmed.

It can be done. We must demand this of law-enforcement agencies.

The Wroths were never allowed to see their son before his cremation. An independent coroner was denied. The sheriff’s office, which freely uses excessive force, will investigate. Everything about this highlights the inhumanity of this system.

We take lives so easily in this country and make every excuse for it. Too many people accept this. We have always thought that earlier forms of punishment—cutting off hands for stealing a loaf of bread, hanging for minor infractions—were barbaric. But they continue to this day, as police are exonerated for killing unarmed people who have committed no crime or crimes equivalent to stealing bread. And instead of paying for a front row seat to the hanging, we can watch on our cell phones. That too many Rohnert Park residents do not seem to object does not make it right.

In its May 2000 report, 17 years ago (!), the California Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for the immediate creation of a civilian review board in Rohnert Park. Seventeen years of arrogance and inaction on the part of that city have followed.

The Wroth family’s hearts are breaking. It did not need to be this way.

Susan Lamont is a member of the Police Brutality Coalition Sonoma County.

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