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San Diego Police Limit Carotid Hold’s Use : Law enforcement: New policy stems from review after two suspects died. The restraint will be restricted to when a violent suspect must be rendered unconscious, chief says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After the deaths of seven suspects in its custody since 1989, the San Diego Police Department announced Monday that it has adopted a broad new policy that severely restricts the use of controversial arrest restraints.

The changes are part of a four-month study by law enforcement officials and medical professionals and was prompted by the January death of 16-year-old John Hampton, whom officers tried to subdue by using a “carotid restraint” hold, which deprives the brain of oxygen.

Although the carotid hold will not be abandoned, its use will be restricted to occasions in which a violent suspect must be rendered unconscious. Even then, it cannot be applied for longer than 30 seconds and should be used with at least two officers present.

In defending his decision not to ban the restraint, Police Chief Bob Burgreen said he will not limit his officers from choosing when to use the restraint.

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“Let’s be real,” Burgreen said. “If you take that tool away, what does an officer have left? Would you rather be rendered unconscious . . . or have an officer come at you with a (baton) and beat you until your bones break? In a real-world situation, those are the options and those are the only options.”

Of the seven cases that the 26-member Custody Death Task Force examined, two suspects died after officers used the carotid hold.

The carotid hold differs from a chokehold. With the carotid hold, the officer cuts the flow of blood to the brain by squeezing the suspect around the neck. In the chokehold, the officer causes unconsciousness by preventing air from moving through the trachea.

The Los Angeles Police Department banned the use of the chokehold a decade ago. The use of the carotid hold by Los Angeles police officers has fallen into disuse.

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Besides Hampton, police used the restraint on Edgar Paris, a 31-year-old with a history of mental illness who had barricaded himself in a hotel room last year and had to be wrestled to the ground.

But the death of Hampton, who was visiting his best friend when he began breaking windows in an apparent drug-induced frenzy, caused the department to look more closely at its restraint policies.

Aside from the restrictions on the use of the carotid restraint, San Diego police have also limited the use of other restraints.

After the death of Tony Steele, 31, while in custody last October, police revised their “hogtie” policy, in which cord cuffs and handcuffs are tied together.

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In February, police stopped transporting prisoners on their stomachs in the back of police cars. Burgreen announced Monday that the department had purchased 26 patrol cars equipped with more space to transport handcuffed prisoners.

The new techniques reduce the possibility of “positional asphyxia,” which medical examiners said caused Steele’s death because he could not breathe while hogtied.


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