FRONT ROYAL, Va. — Virginia State Police are investigating the death of a 77-year-old man following a traffic stop in Front Royal where the man who was pulled over wound up with a deep cut to his head and died 13 days later.
Footage from police body cameras and dashboard cameras, obtained by WUSA9 through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request, shows Warren County Sheriff Deputies slamming Ralph Ennis’ face into the rear of his vehicle before tackling him to the ground. According to the sheriff's office, Ennis died in hospice care on April 15.
The stop occurred in the early morning hours of April 2 at a 7-Eleven parking lot in the area of Riverton Commons and Route 522. Police said they observed Ennis "driving erratically," weaving between two lanes and eventually crossing into the shoulder. An officer following Ennis turned on his lights, and a brief low-speed pursuit ensued.
Viewer discretion advised: This bodycamera footage shows an interaction between police and a 77-year-old man that could be difficult to watch.
The footage, released by Front Royal police, shows the perspective of the responding officer. The officer pulls up to the scene to find a deputy outside of his cruiser in what appears to be a stand-off with the driver who is standing outside the car with his hands to his side. A second deputy can be seen holding back a barking K-9 and a third deputy approaches with his gun drawn, yelling at the driver, “drop your keys, drop your keys!” A Front Royal police officer is heard on camera saying, “Jesus Christ, just grab ahold of him!”
In a subsequent police report, obtained via FOIA request, the Front Royal officer listed as Cpl. R.D. Lowery wrote, “the male appeared elderly and confused.”
The video then shows the deputies grabbing hold of Ennis, swinging him toward the car forcing his face into the vehicle. They all then fall to the ground.
In Lowery's account of the incident, it's described as follows:
"Another deputy ran behind the male and placed his arms behind his back and jerked the male around towards the Ford f150. The deputy slammed the male into the camper top face first. I observed the male spit something out on the pavement below his body. Another deputy came from the side of the male and grabbed the male while the other deputy had his hands behind his back. The male was pushed over but his legs had caught the hitch on the back of the truck. Two deputies and the male were on the ground at this point."
Lowery says Ennis appeared to be "in custody" at that point so he left the scene. He says he only later learned, via radio traffic, that Ennis suffered "a laceration to his head" and was taken to the hospital.
According to a news release from the sheriff's department posted on April 25, this was the second time they encountered Ennis. Deputies located Ennis on March 11 after Pennsylvania State Police issued a Silver Alert for him. The release congratulates the deputies for locating Ennis.
“This office has a proud and proven track record of responding to the urgent need to locate missing and endangered persons, particularly our seniors,” state Major Jeffrey Driskill wrote.
"It's not very often that we see things escalate to this point of violence," said Katie McDonough the Director of Programs and Services with the Alzheimer's Association.
McDonough said they help first responders recognize the signs of cognitive impairment, for instance, if folks appear confused, freeze or do not follow instructions. Her advice? Take it slow.
"Asking simple questions like, 'What is your name? Where are you? Where do you live,' explained McDonough, "if you're getting responses that don't seem normal, those are some clues and you cannot interact with that person like you would with someone without a cognitive impairment. We want to make sure that first responders understand that very often those living with a cognitive impairment are going to become further agitated."
If you would like to learn more about the signs of cognitive impairment or training for first responders go to the association's website or call the 24/7 helpline: 1-800-272-3900
WUSA9 is still waiting for comment from the department about the video, but according to the release the deputies are on administrative leave and the office is cooperating with the investigation and has launched an internal review into the use of force in this case.
Viewer discretion advised: This dashboard cam footage shows an interaction between police and a 77-year-old man that could be difficult to watch.
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