Ralph Ennis

FRONT ROYAL — Video footage of the traffic stop of the man who died two weeks after an April 2 encounter with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been released by the Front Royal Police Department.

Ralph Ennis, 77, died April 15 under hospice care following the traffic stop, according to the Warren County Sheriff's Office. Virginia State Police are investigating the traffic stop and the Sheriff's Office is convening a “board of inquiry” to review the use of force and make a recommendation of any disciplinary action, the Sheriff's Office has said.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jeffrey Driskill stated by email that his agency was exempt from releasing the body camera footage under state code "where the release of criminal incident information is likely to jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution."

An officer with the Front Royal Police Department responded to the traffic stop and that footage was obtained by The Northern Virginia Daily through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has said Ennis was speeding eight miles over the 55 mph speed limit while driving erratically southbound on Winchester Road, leading to the traffic stop around 1 a.m. at the 7-Eleven on Crooked Run Plaza.

The Front Royal Police Department's footage shows Ennis getting out of his pickup truck and walking toward what appears to be a Warren County Sheriff's Office deputy who is giving commands for Ennis to drop his keys.

Ennis can be seen standing still and then spinning around once before a deputy comes up from behind Ennis and tackles him into the back of Ennis' pickup truck.

A third deputy can be seen running toward Ennis and the deputy, pushing them over a trailer hitch to the ground.

A fourth deputy is seen holding back a barking K-9. A fifth deputy runs to where Ennis is on the ground with the deputies.

The Front Royal Police Officer who was wearing the body camera returns to his vehicle as the deputies have Ennis on the ground, and leaves the scene, ending the video footage.

In the video, Ennis can be heard saying what appears to be “please let me up,” and “ok, ok, let me go…I’ll help you.”

One of the deputies on the ground with Ennis can be heard saying “give me your hand…give me your hand now,” as another deputy is seen running back to his car to put on what appears to be latex gloves after the physical altercation.

A search warrant filed by Virginia State Police seeking Ennis' medical records states the deputies "tackled" Ennis, but the Sheriff's Office says the deputies and Ennis fell over the pickup hitch while he was issued commands to stop resisting, drop his keys and place his hands behind his back.

Ennis showed signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease while receiving treatment for a cut, the Sheriff’s Office has also stated. Ennis appeared confused during the traffic stop, the Virginia State Police search warrant states. The Sheriff's Office had stopped Ennis before, in early March, in response to a missing person's Silver Alert.

During the April 2 stop, Ralph Ennis must have been “totally lost” and not aware of what was going on since he was showing signs of dementia as he got older, said his wife, Linda Ennis, who lives in Breezewood, Pennsylvania.

Still, she is sure he wasn't any threat to the deputies during the traffic stop, she said after discussing the video. He didn't point to them to indicate he had a gun and he wasn’t near his vehicle, where he could have grabbed a weapon, she said.

“It should not have happened,” she said.

Driskill provided the Warren County Sheriff’s Office use of force policy in response to a FOIA request, which states that an officer can use force to make an arrest. It also states that a deputy “must understand how to recognize increasing or decreasing levels of threat and respond appropriately.”

The policy also states that every deputy must undergo use of force training every year and a use of force incident must be documented.

Driskill did not immediately respond to a request for comment on if the policy was followed during the traffic stop.

One of the deputies involved has been placed on paid administrative leave and another deputy was reassigned to administrative duties, although Driskill did not immediately respond to a request as to which deputies in the video footage have been reassigned.

Contact Charles Paullin at cpaullin@nvdaily.com

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