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Two-thirds of people put in neck restraints by Minneapolis police were black, department data shows
Published Tuesday, June 2, 2020 4:54AM EDT
In the years leading up to George Floyd's death with his neck beneath the knee of a Minneapolis policeman, at least 58 people lost consciousness after the city's officers put them in neck restraints, according to a CNN analysis of use of force data from the police department.
Officers used neck restraints on 428 people since 2012, and 14% lost consciousness, the data showed. That means the procedure, which is restricted or banned in many large police departments around the country, was used an average of about once a week in the city over that time period.
About two-thirds of the people placed in neck restraints by Minneapolis officers were black -- in a city where black residents make up 19% of the population, according to Census data.
Use of force experts told CNN that the procedure that officer Derek Chauvin used -- pressing his knee into the back of Floyd's neck for several minutes, as Floyd groaned that he couldn't breathe -- wouldn't qualify as a proper neck restraint under the city's policy and procedure manual.
But the Minneapolis department does allow officers to compress "one or both sides of a person's neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway," according to a section of the manual that is marked as last being updated in 2012. It calls the method a "non-deadly force option."
Authorities charged Chauvin with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He's due to appear in court later this month. His attorney has not responded to CNN's requests for comment.
What happened to George Floyd was 'crazy inappropriate,' expert says
Seth Stoughton, an associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina who's written a book about police use of force, said many large police departments banned neck restraints after protests in the 1960s, following criticism that similar chokeholds resulted in fatalities. He said he thinks Minneapolis should also prohibit it except when officers are facing a serious, imminent threat to their safety.
What Chauvin did to Floyd was "not a neck restraint," Stoughton said, calling it "crazy inappropriate."
"Properly applied, a neck restraint is relatively safe," Stoughton said. "The problem is that it's really difficult for officers to apply properly, and there's a high risk that it'll be applied improperly."
Of the total number of people Minneapolis officers subjected to neck restraints since 2012, 280 were black -- 65% -- while 104 people were white, 13 Native American, 13 other/mixed race, 12 unknown, four Asian and two had no record of race.
Thirty-three of the 58 people who lost consciousness were black -- or 57% of the total -- while 19 were white, three were Native American, two were other/mixed race, and one was Asian.
A department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about the use of the procedure or the racial disparities in whom officers use it on.
Floyd does not appear to be listed in the city's use of force database -- possibly because the investigation into his death is ongoing. The data is updated daily.
NBC News first reported on the Minneapolis department's neck restraint data.
The city's police manual lays out two types of neck restraint procedures: Conscious neck restraints, which use lighter pressure, and unconscious neck restraints, which are designed to make the person being held lose consciousness but not to kill them. Unconscious neck restraints are only allowed to be used on people who are "exhibiting active aggression" or cannot be subdued by other methods, or "for life saving purposes."
"Neck restraints shall not be used against subjects who are passively resisting," the manual states. It defines passive resistance as someone who is not attempting "to defeat an officer's control efforts."
They 'tensed' and police put them in neck restraints
Still, the department's data shows that many encounters resulting in neck restraints began with seemingly minor provocations. The most common incident that preceded someone being placed in a neck restraint was a report of a "suspicious person," which accounted for 83 of the 428 cases.
And the most common type of "resistance" by a subject that led to officers placing them in a neck restraint was that they "tensed" -- the description used for 162 of the cases. Those explanations come from officers' own reports about the incidents.
Nearly half of people who lost consciousness in neck restraints were injured, according to the data. The reports don't specify how serious those injuries are.
Overall, the city has seen an overall decline in use of the procedure in recent years. While 71 people were subject to neck restraints in 2012, the first year for which data is available, 49 experienced it in 2019. So far, there have been 14 cases listed for 2020 (half the number in the first five months of 2019), although other examples such as Floyd's death may not have reports submitted yet.
Adam Bercovici, a retired Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant who works as an expert witness in police use of force cases, agreed that Minneapolis should ban neck restraints.
"There's no reason for it, unless you're in a life-or-death struggle," Bercovici said. "That officer wasn't in any danger. To me, he looked like he could have been eating a sandwich -- that's how calm he looked."