Controversial Police Restraint to Be Banned
The Los Angeles Police Commission has agreed to ban a controversial form of restraining violent suspects as part of a proposed $750,000 settlement with the family of a man who died after officers shackled his hands and feet together behind his back.
The practice, referred to by some as hogtying--or hobbling, in police terms--is typically used against combative suspects who often are intoxicated and difficult to control.
Over the past five years, the city has spent more than $2 million settling hogtying cases involving the LAPD, attorneys said. The proposed settlement, approved by the Police Commission in closed session, is expected to be forwarded to the City Council next week for final city approval.
Police commissioners say eliminating the restraint procedure would reduce the city’s civil liability, but some police argue that without the procedure, officers could have to resort to more aggressive uses of force to apprehend belligerent suspects.
“They may have to escalate into a higher level of force,” said LAPD Sgt. Randy Minini, who trains officers in the use of restraint, which the department calls the “total appendage restraint procedure.”
“We’ll probably see more injuries to suspects and more injuries to officers,” he said.
According to numerous medical studies, hogtying can interfere with breathing and increase the risk of sudden death, particularly when overweight, excited or drug intoxicated individuals are placed on their stomachs. The result in some cases is that suspects suffocate under the weight of their own body. The coroner has linked a number of deaths of suspects restrained by LAPD officers to “positional asphyxia” caused by hogtying.
The restraint authorized by the LAPD is referred to as a form of hogtying by those outside the law enforcement community because the suspects’ arms and legs are linked together behind their backs. But department officials bristle at that characterization, saying their procedure is safer and much less restrictive than traditional hogtying, which tightly bands the legs and arms together. For one thing, department policy calls for slack in the strap between the legs and arms. In addition, suspects are to be immediately placed in a seated upright position to prevent asphyxia.
“Hogtying. That language is so inflammatory,” Minini said. “Our procedure is getting a bad rap. It’s not like that.”
Because of the dangers associated with hogtying, the practice has been banned by many law enforcement agencies in the country, including the New York City Police Department.
Three years ago, the LAPD modified its hobbling procedures in an attempt to minimize the risks to the suspects. The current policy, which was drafted with the assistance of the county health department, calls for a sufficient amount of slack in the strap between the suspect’s arms and legs so he can be placed in a seated position.
The strap is about an inch wide and has a bursting strength of 700 pounds of pressure, meaning it is unlikely a suspect could break it. Furthermore, because the strap is connected by the wrists to the feet behind the back, a suspect who tries to kick ends up harming his own wrists.
Despite the change in the LAPD’s policy, in-custody deaths still occurred after the restraint procedure had been applied, authorities said.
One such case involved Bruce Klobuchar, the 25-year-old son of a former police officer, who died in August 1995 after allegedly being hogtied. Klobuchar’s family sued the department, claiming that the department should have known that its restraint was deadly.
“The policymakers of the Los Angeles Police Department have known for approximately 10 years that this restraint procedure . . . is potentially deadly,” Carol A. Watson, an attorney for Klobuchar’s parents, wrote in a document involved in a proposed settlement.
“Notwithstanding abundant notice of the dangers of TARP or hogtying, the city of Los Angeles authorized such tactics but failed to train their officers concerning the dangers,” Watson said.
According to police reports, on the night of Aug. 18, 1995, officers received a radio call of a “violent male” disturbing a Sun Valley neighborhood. When officers arrived, they encountered Bruce Klobuchar, who appeared to be incoherent, hostile and under the influence of drugs, the reports said.
Initial attempts to apprehend the 6-foot, 170-pound Klobuchar were unsuccessful as were attempts to restrain him with electrical darts and pepper spray. Finally, officers swarmed him and managed to restrain his hands and legs with their hobbling device. Minutes later, as Klobuchar lay on his side, officers noticed that he was not breathing. He died a short time later.
The coroner determined that Klobuchar’s death was due to “intoxication of multiple drugs and restraint asphyxia,” according to police reports.
The family and the Police Commission have agreed to settle the matter out of court for $750,000 and a promise from the department that the practice will be banned.
The proposed agreement prohibits police from hobbling people’s legs and hands together behind their backs, said Hugh R. Manes, another attorney for Klobuchar’s parents. It does not preclude police from securing legs, arms or even linking legs and arms together with a strap in front of a suspect’s body, a procedure not deemed hogtying, he said.
Klobuchar’s parents could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Two years ago, the City Council approved an $885,000 award to the relatives of a 37-year-old barber who died after he allegedly was hogtied and placed face-down in a police car in 1993. Other settlements have cost the city more than $1 million, attorneys said.
Hubert Williams, executive director for the Washington-based Police Foundation, which researches police policy issues, said hogtying restraints have been “a problematic” issue for law enforcement because “police need the capacity to restrain suspects” but don’t want to cause a suspect to die, exposing their agencies and the taxpayers to civil lawsuits.
“Police should not be totally prevented from using it,” Williams said. “The issue is the frequency of its use. It’s a high-risk technique that should only be used in the most extraordinary circumstance.”
Allan Parachini, public affairs director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, agreed that police need ways to restrain suspects, but said they should develop procedures that are less risky than hogtying.
“This is a dangerous tactic. Any officer who contends it is not a dangerous tactic is either misinformed or fooling himself,” Parachini said.
The department’s prohibition of the current technique is not the first time the LAPD has banned a restraint procedure. In 1982, the LAPD banned the use of chokeholds because they had been linked to as many as 17 possible deaths in seven years.
Minini said the department is continuing to look for restraint procedures that are effective yet safe. He said the department is looking into the use of a “mummy wrap” device that essentially works as “a straitjacket around the lower two-thirds of a person’s body.”
Some agencies use nets, special hooks to bring a suspect to the ground, shields, water cannons and other means to control and defend against combative people.
The LAPD, like many departments, also uses other nonlethal forms of force including chemical sprays and Taser guns, which shoot electrical darts to incapacitate suspects.