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San Diego Sheriff’s Department and other agencies ban the use of controversial neck hold

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Several law enforcement agencies in San Diego — including the Sheriff’s Department — on Wednesday announced an immediate ban on the use of carotid restraint, a move that comes two days after San Diego police said they would no longer allow officers to use the controversial neck hold.

The county Sheriff’s Department, as well as police departments in Oceanside, Coronado and La Mesa — which was beset by riots sparked by police and racial injustices on Saturday — all announced they were making the policy change.

“In light of community concerns, and after consultation with many elected officials throughout the county, I am stopping the use of the carotid restraint by my deputies effective immediately,” Sheriff Bill Gore said in a written statement. “I have and always will listen to any feedback about the public safety services we provide. Working together, we can ensure San Diego remains the safest urban county in the nation.”

In such a hold, officers use an arm to put pressure on the sides of a person’s neck. If it’s applied correctly, the person can fall unconscious. Police leaders have said it can resolve incidents before needing to turn to deadlier force like use of a gun. But it can lead to injury or death. Critics assail it as dangerous, and say it is used disproportionately on people of color.

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Oceanside Police Chief Frank McCoy issued a statement Wednesday noting he is “aware this particular restraint option has been and continues to be considered unacceptable in many communities.”

“It is time for our department to focus on alternative de-escalation tools and techniques that will help ensure the safety of those individuals in our custody,” McCoy said.

Get live updates from Los Angeles Times journalists as they report on protests across the U.S. after the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

Coronado Police Chief Charles Kaye, who said his department has used it just once in the last three years, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “a lot of thought went into this [decision] over the last several days.”

“How would you be impacted by the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd?” Kaye said.

The policy change came after a week of protests and riots locally and nationally following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in handcuffs and pleading that he could not breathe as a Minneapolis police officer kept a knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The incident was caught on video.

San Diego, like cities across the nation, has seen days of demonstrations, protests and even riots as people decry police mistreatment of communities of color.

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It’s a ban long sought by activists, among them Racial Justice Coalition founder Buki Domingos. “Everybody has been pinching themselves,” she said Wednesday. “They have been crying. ... I’m really glad. I am happy.”

Shane Harris, president of the advocacy group the People’s Alliance for Justice, after hearing the news of Gore’s decision, commended Gore “for heeding to our call today, and for doing what is morally right in this moment in America where we are at a crossroads.”

“I hope that he is committed to long-term reforms that are far too late in policing,” Harris said.

Harris said there is still much work to do to reform law enforcement agencies, and he hoped Gore will work with Harris’ advocacy group and others to take actions to ensure equal justice for all people.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said California would reject any attempt by President Trump to send the military into states to control protests following the death of George Floyd.

After San Diego announced Monday that it was ending the practice, County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher called on Gore to do the same. On Wednesday, he issued a statement commending the sheriff for the decision.

“Our voices have been heard. This is one actionable step toward healing the broken relationship between law enforcement and the black community,” Fletcher said.

Other departments have raised questions about the use of the hold. In a letter published June 1, National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said the city’s Community Police Review board would work with the police department to review the agency’s existing carotid restraint policy.

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“We must take action in the coming days and months to ensure that citizens such as George Floyd can breathe and thrive in our society,” the letter said.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers Morgan Cook and Lyndsay Winkley contributed to this report.


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