Controversial neck restraint policies tweaked at several Minn. police departments

With state lawmakers failing to pass sweeping reforms to ban the use of neck restraints by police officers in the wake of George Floyd’s death, several departments are proactively tweaking their policies to either limit or outright ban the use of the controversial tactic.

The maneuver is designed to cut off blood flow to a person’s head and experts contend it can lead to deadly consequences even when used correctly.

The tactic has since been banned in Minneapolis as part of a judge’s order and agreement with the Department of Human Rights.
5 INVESTIGATES has learned at least four other police agencies – Ramsey County, Sherburne County, the Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension – have all tweaked their policies since Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25.

Mylan Masson, a retired law enforcement instructor at Hennepin Technical College, said they stopped teaching the maneuver in school years ago.

“It’s just a maneuver that needs to evolve and needs to evolve out of the process,” she said.

However, a review of policies in the 25 largest departments found most do not have a policy addressing how and when officers use such tactics during arrests. Three departments will continue to allow the use of neck restraints — Metro Transit Police, Bloomington and Plymouth.

More from KSTP:

Senate GOP to restrict police chokeholds in emerging bill

Minneapolis bans police chokeholds, Mayor Frey signs temporary restraining order, MPD chief vows ‘substantive policy changes’

“We have only used the neck restraint two times in the last ten years,” said Eric Fadden, Deputy Chief of the Plymouth Police Department. “It’s rarely used.”

Fadden said the department’s focus is always on de-escalation but defends the neck restraint policy because he said it’s “an important tool.”

Officers in Plymouth train on the maneuver at least four times a year, according to Fadden.

“A neck restraint would rise to the level if someone is actively fighting one of our officers, either to assault an officer, or if an officer is trying to effect an arrest on a person who needs to be arrested and they’re actively fighting that officer or officers,” he said.

Most departments that do not allow officers to use a neck restraint on a suspect do offer one exception: If it’s a deadly force scenario and someone’s life is at risk.

The deadly force exception was part of the proposed state legislation on police reform that lawmakers failed to pass during last week’s special session. It is a point of contention among those pushing widespread police reform and police administrators like Fadden who do not want to strip too many tools from officers.

That gray area has been completely stripped from the Minneapolis Police Department which entered into an agreement to outright ban the use of neck restraints and chokeholds.

The department had previously been criticized for its use of such tactics after the death of David Smith in 2010. The 28-year-old man suffered from mental illness had been acting erratically at the YMCA.

His death, which a medical examiner later attributed to an officer holding his knee on Smiths’ neck and throat for several minutes, resulted in a $3 million settlement.

And while the department promised to retrain officers, it still authorized the use of such force.

In fact, police records analyzed by 5 INVESTIGATES show officers used neck restraints 250 times in the last five years, rendering 20 percent of the suspects unconscious.