The knee-to-the-neck restraint infamously used by Minneapolis police during the killing of George Floyd is banned by all four police departments in Reporter communities as a regular tactic — though there are exceptions for deadly-force situations.
Nationwide protests were sparked by video of Floyd’s May 25, arrest, where he lay on the street with officers pinning him down. One officer, Derek Chauvin, restrained Floyd by pressing a knee against his neck for several minutes as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe and was being killed. Floyd lost consciousness and died. His death was ruled a homicide and Chauvin now faces murder and manslaughter charges. Two autopsies differ as to whether Floyd died from asphyxiation, but agree on neck compression as a factor, according to media reports.
The police departments of Atlanta, Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs said that such use of a “neck restraint” is against their use-of-force policies for normal arrests. Neck restraints include chokeholds and other forms of pressure to the neck or throat.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police says such neck restraints are widely prohibited.
It is unclear how long neck restraints have been banned by local departments. The Atlanta Police Department said it has prohibited such holds for at least 16 years.
“It appears the language on neck restraints was added into our use of force policy in 2004. I don’t have information on why,” said APD spokesperson Carlos Campos.
A big exception in local departments is that choking a suspect would be allowed in a situation where deadly force is permitted, basically meaning where the suspect is deemed to be an immediate threat to killing or severely injuring another person. In essence, a neck restraint is seen as a lethal tactic.
At the Brookhaven Police Department, said spokesperson Sgt. David Snively, “We consider all neck restraints to be deadly force, and BPD officers are prohibited from using neck restraints except when the use of deadly force would be authorized.”
“Our policies and training prohibit any type of neck restraints or any activity that involves choking,” said Sandy Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Salvador Ortega. “Further, our training and use-of-force policy strictly prohibits ‘chokeholds’ or any other control technique that causes someone’s airway or throat area to be constricted.
“Our officers are trained in zone handcuffing, where multiple officers dealing with an uncooperative person on the ground can safely apply handcuffs, none of which includes knees or choking,” Ortega added.
The Dunwoody Police Department’s use-of-force policy says that “any control/restraining type technique (neck restraint/chokehold) in which an employee places direct pressure on the front throat/tracheal area shall be prohibited unless deadly force is warranted.”
“What that means is that unless it’s a deadly force situation where the officer would be justified in using deadly force with a firearm, or any other means, it is prohibited,” said DPD spokesperson Sgt. Robert Parsons.
The APD’s use-of-force policy addresses neck restraints in a lengthy passage:
“Employees will not use neck restraints, carotid artery holds or other weaponless control techniques that are not taught or approved by the department due to the potential for serious injury or death; unless they are in an emergency situation or under exigent circumstances where it is immediately necessary to use force to prevent serious bodily injury or death and city-issued and/or authorized lethal or less-lethal weapons are inoperable, inaccessible or otherwise not available or effective.”
–John Ruch, Bob Pepalis and Erin Schilling