Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Ana police suspend use of carotid restraint — technique has been questioned after George Floyd’s death

The Los Angeles, Pasadena and Santa Ana police departments are among the latest law enforcement agencies to suspend use of carotid restraint control, commonly referred to as a sleeper hold, as elected officials mull a statewide ban and some local agencies reconsider their use of the technique.

Pasadena Police Chief John Perez announced that effective Sunday, June 7, his department was suspending use of the technique, adding that use-of-force experts will work with the department to identify alternative methods for restraining combative suspects.

Later, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore and Police Commission President Eileen Decker reached an agreement placing an immediate moratorium on sleeper holds on Monday, June 8. Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin on Monday also announced a temporary prohibition on carotid restraint control holds “as a use of force option until further evaluation and assessment.”

Beginning Monday, Anaheim police officers will be authorized to use carotid holds only in situations where lethal force is deemed necessary, Anaheim Police Department Sgt. Shane Carringer said. That means the restraint method, which restricts blood flowing to a person’s brain by applying pressure to the sides of the neck, should only be utilized by department staff at times when a victim or officer’s life is at risk.

The shift in policy comes amidst a wave of outrage and mass demonstrations held in response to the death of George Floyd. He is the unarmed black man who died after saying “I can’t breathe” while a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck for more than eight minutes.

That officer didn’t use the carotid hold, but Floyd’s death prompted scrutiny of the technique.

The incident sparked widespread civil unrest in Southern California and nationwide, and the tactics used to detain Floyd, who had been suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill, were condemned by law enforcement agencies across the country. The four officers involved have been arrested.

The decisions to suspend use of the technique also follow calls from Gov. Gavin Newsom to end the use of sleeper holds by all law enforcement agencies in the state.

“We expect to get further clarity regarding this issue in the next few weeks,” Pasadena police Lt.  Bill Grisafe said in statement Sunday.

“At the end of the day, a carotid hold that literally is designed to stop people’s blood from flowing into their brain – that has no place any longer in 21st-century practices and policing,” Newsom said during a press briefing on Friday, June 5.

The governor also pledged to support Assembly Bill 1196, a proposed law that “specifically and clearly prohibits a law enforcement agency from authorizing the use of a carotid restraint,” Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, said in a statement announcing the measure on Thursday, June 4.

“Speaking as a legislator and elected official, we have to do better,” Gipson said. “We have to hold those in authority accountable.”

Even as the technique is debated at the state level, some Southern California law enforcement agencies have moved forward with their own restrictions, including an end to its use announced by more than a dozen San Diego-area departments.

Use of the carotid restraint by the Los Angeles Police Department was severely curtailed in the early-1980s by the Los Angeles Police Commission following the deaths of a dozen black men. Since thenand prior to Monday’s announcement, LAPD officers had been restricted from using the technique except in situations where deadly force is justified.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Monday said in a statement it has “an immediate moratorium on the use of the LASD carotid restraint in all situations which do not rise to the level of deadly force.”

Sheriff’s deputies in Orange County continue to use the control hold, said agency spokeswoman Carrie Braun, though she added it’s rarely deployed.

“We’re absolutely listening to the concerns of the community,” Braun said about the criticism of the carotid hold, though she echoed other agencies, saying the use of the hold was uncommon.

Officer Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the Riverside Police Department, pointed to a department policy that the carotid restraint  may only be used “to control a subject that is violent, physically resisting or appears to have the potential to harm self or others.”

Similarly, authorities said the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department allows for the use of the restraint but reserve it for those who are violently resisting and have demonstrated they may be violent to officers, others or themselves.

Some agencies are taking a pro-active look at use of the technique following the concern at the state level.

“We are currently actively looking at our carotid policy and how it will be affected by the order given by the governor,” Anaheim’s  Carringer said prior to announcement of changes to the department’s guidelines on the use of carotid holds.

The technique had been used infrequently by Anaheim police, and is considered one of the highest uses of force, Carringer said. He said that when done successfully, it can be an effective tool to safely take someone combative into custody.

“Under normal circumstances, it’ll typically render them unconscious for a brief moment of time,” he said. “It allows police officers to restrain someone without the danger of further harm.”

Some agencies in previous years have pushed back on banning the technique, arguing that it is safe when used properly and offers an alternative to more dangerous techniques to subdue someone, such as guns or batons.

Carringer noted that this hold is typical in martial arts taught to the general public. He said that often when the restraint is followed by someone dying or seriously injured, there are other factors at play.

“They’re oftentimes suffering from underlying medical conditions or have drugs in their system.”

Last year a jury awarded $13.2 million to the two children of 32-year-old Fermin Vincent Valenzuela, who died from complications of asphyxia after a confrontation with Anaheim police officers in 2016.

Officers administered a carotid hold on Valenzuela after getting reports of a man following a woman home. Valenzuela, under the influence of methamphetamine, was combative when confronted by police and died days after the restraint was used on him.

Other agencies are awaiting word from state leaders before deciding whether their guidelines regarding carotid restraint’s need to be updated.

“Nothing from what I understand has trickled or been passed to the agencies,” Railsback said. “So we are still very early into this and are waiting to see what the directive and instructions (are).”

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