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Victim in assault trial of former Sonoma County deputy says he feared for his life

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Fernando Del Valle was feeling low.

He had no job and his wife picked a fight with him, yelling loud enough for their Boyes Hot Springs neighbors to hear that she hated him and wished he were dead.

So he locked himself in a back bedroom as his wife, Kirsten Roberts continued to rant. Soon, three sheriff’s deputies arrived, summoned by a neighbor’s 911 call. They made a beeline for the bedroom and Del Valle.

One of the deputies, Scott Thorne, kicked in Del Valle’s door and shot him with a Taser gun when he refused to get out of bed. Another deputy and Thorne struck Del Valle with batons, leaving welts across his back.

That night of Sept. 24, 2016 was all caught on video.

On Monday, Del Valle faced Thorne in court, testifying in his excessive force trial about the pain and humiliation of being beaten in his own home and feelings that he was going to be killed.

Asked why he didn’t cooperate, Del Valle said “because I didn’t have to.”

“I just wanted to be left alone,” the Marine Corps veteran said, pointing a finger at Thorne seated across the courtroom in a dark suit. “They came in with batons and Tasers at the ready, basically to do harm.”

The testimony came as trial opened for Thorne, 41, who is charged with felony assault by a police office and faces up to three years in jail if convicted.

He is no longer with the department.

The two other deputies were cleared of wrongdoing. They are expected to testify starting Wednesday.

Thorne’s prosecution is noteworthy in Sonoma County where police officers have been the subject of numerous force complaints over the past decade but are seldom, if ever, charged.

Prosecutor Bob Waner said in his opening statement to jurors that such incidents have given rise to widespread use of police body cameras to monitor police incidents.

He played a 9-minute clip from the 2016 incident in Del Valle’s Highland Boulevard house. After knocking on the front door and waiting 90 seconds to be let in, it shows Thorne rushing down a hallway, yelling at Del Valle to open up and then kicking in the door.

They two argued at Del Valle’s bedside before Thorne shot him in his bare chest with the electric stun gun.

“I’m not standing up,” Del Valle said before he was hit with an electric barb. “I’m in my house.”

After screaming and writhing in pain, a shirtless Del Valle is seen on the video scrambling from his bed and bolting to the doorway before he is struck down by baton blows from one of the deputies.

As he fell, he yelled to his wife, “Call my lawyer.”

Waner said there was no evidence of domestic violence. Neighbors called 911 after they reported hearing Kirsten Roberts yelling at her husband. In the recorded call to dispatchers, neighbor Margaret Sheltren said the wife seemed like a drunken aggressor.

“The deputy showed up that night to the wrong call,” Waner told jurors.

But Thorne’s lawyer said Del Valle had a history of domestic problems and an attitude against law enforcement. He was arrested in July 2016 after his wife called deputies to say he was smashing things in his room.

When police arrived that night, attorney Chris Andrian said, he could have simply cooperated. But he chose not to.

Andrian grilled Del Valle about his decision as well as his statement that he didn’t know police were outside his door. He pointed to a previous statement Del Valle made to police acknowledging deputies were outside.

For a tense moment, the attorney and witness stared at each other in silence.

“So what is it, Mr. Del Valle? Was it the Sheriff’s Office or a neighbor?” Andrian asked.

“I don’t know,” Del Valle responded. “Play the video.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.