Practice of turning suspects face down raises criticism

Mario González (26) died minutes after this video when the Alameda, California police held him face down for five minutes. AP Photo

The practice that police in the United States use to place combative suspects face down and press their backs with their hands, elbows or knees to take control is increasingly questioned.

The practice of these forms of domination to the suspects, have already caused numerous injuries and several deaths, since a method and a maximum time is not established to subject an individual to that position, but what period of time is appropriate?

That question and the face-down method are in the limelight after a police video released last week showed officers in Northern California wrestling with a man for more than five minutes while lying on his stomach.

He died. Two days after the video was released, a jury in Southern California awarded more than $ 2 million to the family of a homeless man who died in 2018 after officers in Anaheim used a similar technique to immobilize him.

Now, a Los Angeles-area legislator who is a former police officer is trying to ban techniques that create a substantial risk of what is known as "positional choking," legislation that police oppose as vague or unnecessary since most departments already restrict the practice.

"This does not mean that a police officer can no longer restrain anyone when he needs to for public safety, but it would mean that he cannot prevent anyone from breathing or losing oxygen when restraining him," Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gipson said in a statement.

He cited the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, who was face down when an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and another death in California before Christmas that involved police in the Antioch community in the Area. from the San Francisco Bay.

Legislation on this practice is receiving more attention after Mario González, 26, died on April 19. Body camera video released last week showed he was pinned down by four Alameda Police Department employees. Officers confronted him after receiving calls to 911 that he appeared disoriented or drunk and appeared to be tearing security labels on alcohol bottles in shopping baskets.

The department's policy manual says that a suspect "should not be placed face down for an extended period, as this could reduce the person's ability to breathe."

"Every department has policies on this," said Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force consultant for law enforcement agencies and a deputy sheriff and legal advisor for the Plumas County, California, sheriff's office. "All law enforcement agencies train their officers, advise them, and warn them about this same restraint problem: positional suffocation."

Timothy T. Williams Jr., a police tactics expert who spent nearly 30 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, said the policy should be clearer.

"The policy needs to be more specific and targeted: once he or she is handcuffed, they should be immediately removed from the prone position, turned onto their side and, if possible, positioned," Williams said. Otherwise, "you leave everything to subjective interpretation: what may be short for you, may be long for me."

That's not new: A 1995 US Department of Justice bulletin warned agencies "as soon as the suspect is handcuffed, remove him from the stomach."

Williams and Obayashi agree that officers at Alameda should have known they needed to get Gonzalez on their side more quickly. In fact, the video captures an officer suggesting that they do so about 15 seconds before González loses consciousness. Another officer refused, apparently out of fear of losing control.

The video shows one officer placing an elbow on González's neck and a knee on his shoulder, while another appears to put a knee on his back and leaves it there for about four minutes, even as González gasps for air. Officers handcuffed him about two minutes after they pinned him to the ground, but did not turn him on his back until three minutes later, when he had lost consciousness.

From a medical standpoint, any oxygen or blood flow restriction is too long-lasting, said neurologist Nicole Rosendale of the University of California, San Francisco.

"There are no definite, safe ways to have someone in a position like this and reduce oxygen," he said. "There is no way to predict who might be at higher risk or lower risk of complications from this position."

That is the premise of California's proposed ban, which would prohibit applying pressure or body weight to the neck, torso or back of an immobilized person or laying them on their back or stomach without adequate control.

The California State Marshals Association said the language is too broad, violations would be too difficult to prosecute and a ban would leave officers with fewer options against violent suspects and more likely to use batons or stun guns.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said Nevada enacted a similar ban last year as part of broader legislation.

After Floyd's death, California last year banned police from using grab bars with arms, including grab bars that apply pressure to a person's windpipe and carotids that slow the flow of blood to the brain.

With AP information



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