WATCH: Jury Finds Chico Police Sergeant Not Guilty of Assault After Video Shows Him Choking Handcuffed Suspect

The Butte County District Attorney’s Office released body camera video Friday showing former Chico police Sgt. Scott Ruppel grabbing a suspect by the neck and pushing him backward in a police car during an incident that happened in August 2017. (Body camera video screengrab via Butte County District Attorney’s Office)

OROVILLE — A Butte County jury Friday found a former Chico police sergeant not guilty of assault in the choke hold of a handcuffed suspect in the back of a police vehicle in 2017.

The former sergeant, Scott Ruppel, 51, had been charged with misdemeanor assault by a public officer after prosecutors alleged he unreasonably grabbed a shouting suspect by the neck and forced him back into the police vehicle’s unit cage.

Ruppel’s defense attorney said he was acting in self-defense.

The suspect, William Michael Rowley II, 21, did not suffer lasting physical injuries but could be heard gasping for air on body camera video captured by another officer on the scene.

The Butte County District Attorney’s Office released body camera video Friday that was presented at trial this week in the assault case against former Chico police Sgt. Scott Ruppel. The moment in question takes place around the 5 minute mark.

The incident happened on Aug. 15, 2017, when Rowley had been placed under arrest at the time on suspicion of fighting with his father, vandalizing his father’s Chico apartment and resisting arrest by displaying a machete.

After the jury’s verdict was read in Butte County Superior Court in Oroville, Ruppel embraced his family and supporters. Ruppel’s trial began Monday, and the jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon after watching body camera footage of the incident and hearing testimony about use of force, police training and testimony from Ruppel himself.

Outside of court, Ruppel said he appreciated the jury’s time and was glad the case is over.

Ruppel said the case was about him not wanting to get hurt by a person in a certain mental condition, adding that he also wanted to avoid being spit on and potentially becoming infected with something.

“No officer that I’ve ever known in my whole career has ever gone to work and wanted to do something to someone,” he said. “They just don’t have that here. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but we just don’t have it here.”

Ruppel added: “Everybody’s going to have a different opinion, and that’s OK. That’s OK. I understand that, but I’m just glad it’s done and I can exhale and get a good night’s sleep.”

Ruppel’s attorney, Brett Sherman, said he was pleased with the outcome of the trial.

“We believe it’s the outcome that the evidence showed,” Sherman said. “We are extremely pleased that the jury reached the verdict of not guilty.”

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who prosecuted the case, said, “We’re naturally disappointed that it was not a guilty verdict, but we can also understand” the jury’s verdict.

Ramsey said many of the facts of the case were not in dispute. It was a matter of interpreting those facts.

The district attorney said the prosecution’s case centered on a person who was noncombative and handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle.

“But as defense counsel and Mr. Ruppel had indicated, he felt that there was nonetheless a danger to him,” Ramsey said, adding that self-defense is a difficult defense for prosecutors to overcome.

“Our belief was that the officer could have just as easily shut the door,” he said. “As was stated, he didn’t have to (shut the door). Nonetheless felt that would have been the better way to go.”

The District Attorney’s Office released body camera video of the incident following the completion of the trial.

The District Attorney’s Office learned of Ruppel’s choke hold as it was reviewing body camera video in the criminal case against Rowley, prosecutors have said. The Chico Police Department subsequently placed Ruppel on administrative leave as it conducted an internal review of the incident.

Ruppel retired from the Police Department amid the internal investigation.

Ruppel had been a Chico police officer for 19 years and a law enforcement officer for 29. Three weeks before his encounter with Rowley, Ruppel was a shooting officer in the July 23, 2017, shooting death of 34-year-old Ventura resident Tyler Rushing. Ramsey found that Ruppel and a security guard who also shot Rushing were not criminally liable in the case.

Asked Friday whether Ruppel’s encounter with Rowley could have been influenced by his encounter with Rushing three weeks earlier, Ramsey said, “Could have been. That’s certainly — you can’t overlook kind of the coincidence, but we can’t put any dime-store psychology on that either.”