La Crosse PD Banned Use of Neck Restraints After Eric Garner Death

By Eric Timmons

The La Crosse Police Department in 2015 quietly dropped the use of neck restraints as a permissible technique for the city’s police officers.

The move to drop neck restraints came less than six months after the death of Eric Garner in New York, who died after being put in a chokehold by a police officer, despite crying out that he couldn’t breathe. 

The recent murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, who pressed his knee on a handcuffed Floyd for nine minutes, has provoked mass protests across the nation and again put a spotlight on neck restraints as a police tactic.

“It’s a technique that with a small margin of error can result in killing someone,” La Crosse Police Captain Jason Melby told The La Crosse Independent this week.

The lateral vascular restraint is supposed to cut blood flow to the brain, rendering a person unconscious without blocking their airway. But as Melby noted, it can lead to death if not properly applied.

“We felt it wasn’t worth the risk anymore,” Melby said of the department’s decision to drop the use of the technique from its general orders manual in January 2015. The move was not publicized. 

The section of the old La Crosse Police Department General Orders Manual that refers to the use of lateral vascular restraints before it was dropped.

Melby said neck restraints were permissible only for tactical officers prior to the 2015 decision. Those officers received annual training in the technique. Two police officers in Fort Wanye, Indiana, were seriously injured when being used as subjects for training in lateral vascular restraints in 2019, demonstrating how dangerous the tactic is.

Although the technique is now banned for La Crosse officers, an exception could be made in a situation where an officer was facing a lethal or deadly force encounter, Melby noted.

In both the Eric Garner and George Floyd cases, officers had apprehended the men for alleged crimes that were minor in nature. Garner was accused of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps, while Floyd was alleged to have attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill.

Although neck restraints are now banned as a tactic for police in La Crosse, a technique called diffused striking remains in the department’s general orders manual. Diffused strikes involve striking or slapping a person and, as the department manual notes, “usually render the subject temporarily unconscious.”

The 2020 General Orders Manual section on incapacitating techniques with the reference to lateral vascular restraints removed.

In the wake of the protests of the murder of Floyd, the La Crosse Police Department this week created a new Transparency in Policing page on the city’s website, which includes use of force statistics for recent years, and a link to the department’s general orders manual.

Feature photo credit: An ‘I Can’t Breathe’ sign along 38th St in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd on Monday night by Lorie Shaull /CC BY-SA 2.0

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