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Some police teach, allow neck restraints

By now, we’ve all seen the hard-to-watch video depicting former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin calmly kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd. Chauvin remains in the position for several minutes, appearing undaunted by Floyd’s pleas and even when Floyd falls silent.

Similarly unfazed are other Minneapolis police officers who stand around while Floyd falls unconscious. Floyd ultimately died, setting off nationwide protests, including those held last week in Warren and Youngstown.

In the video, officer responses to the arrest appear calm and measured, as if it’s just part of a routine. Possibly that’s because the procedure is what they’ve been taught.

Indeed, the Minneapolis Police Department Use-of-Force policy defines police techniques like “choke hold,” “neck restraint,” “conscious neck restraint” and “unconscious neck restraint” as permissible procedures.

The “choke hold” is described as a “deadly force” option, and the “unconscious neck restraint” option is defined as a technique performed with intent to rendering the person unconscious by applying adequate pressure.

Minneapolis police used neck restraints at least 237 times since 2015, NBC News reported last week; 44 times the recipient lost consciousness, department records show.

A 2014 article in the Atlantic reported some police agencies allow these types of neck restraints, which can temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain, triggering loss of consciousness, but not intended to impede breathing.

Use of these techniques continue, despite warnings issued as early as 1995 by the U.S. Department of Justice on in-custody deaths caused by positional asphyxia.

The DOJ bulletin described positional asphyxia as “death as a result of body position that interferes with one’s ability to breathe.” It states: “A person lying on his stomach has trouble breathing when pressure is applied to his back.” The advisory offers guidelines for care of subdued subjects, stating, “As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach. … Monitor subject carefully and obtain medical treatment if needed. Be trained to recognize breathing difficulties or loss of consciousness and immediately transport the individual to the emergency room, or call for an emergency medical team (EMT) unit if such signs are observed.”

Eight months ago, Lawrence E. Heiskell, a California emergency room physician who also has spent time as a reserve police officer, published an article on the prevention of positional asphyxia, in which he states the risk increases when physical restraint of a suspect involves behind-the-back handcuffing combined with placing the individual in a stomach-down position.

To mitigate the risk, he, too, suggested that once handcuffed, get the suspect off the face-down position.

Now, I’m no expert, and I realize complete investigatory records, including the final autopsy report, have not yet been released. Still, it seems reasonable that after a suspect is arrested and handcuffed that continuing to kneel on him as he lies face down on pavement would be problematic.

It also seems logical that officers would have been trained as such.

Hopefully, local officers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties have been trained to avoid these types of restraints. Last week, Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci told our reporter that his officers do not use “neck or throat techniques” and that police there are required to step in to stop any officer that is going too far.

Chauvin and fellow officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, have been fired. Each faces criminal charges. Despite having been convicted in the court of public opinion, for now, they all remain innocent.

In my opinion, however, they are not the only people who should be answering for this horrific situation. Elected officials in Minneapolis, training officers, police department and safety service leaders there should be answering serious questions about that city’s use of force policies.

On Friday, Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted for immediate reform within the city’s police department including banning chokeholds, media there reported.

That was much needed action. Still it is too little and too late.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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