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State Senate takes testimony on more use of neck restraints

February 2, 2021 GMT

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A bill in the state Legislature that could expand the use of vascular neck restraints by law enforcement officers was sharply criticized Tuesday by a Black Lives Matter activist.

Sakara Remmu of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance told the Senate Law and Justice Committee that the bill would likely expand the use of excessive force by law officers in the state.

“We need to curb excessive force,” Remmu said. “Neck restraints are choke holds ... people have not called for better training on the use of choke holds.”

But numerous law enforcement officials testified that vascular neck restraints have been used safely for decades and are much safer than other forms of restraining suspects who are fighting with law officers.

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The committee heard testimony but took no action on the bill, which calls for developing a statewide written policy for training in the use of vascular neck restraints by June 1, 2022.

The vascular neck restraint is a technique that police officers can use to control combative individuals. The technique calls for compressing the carotid arteries, thereby decreasing cerebral artery blood flow and leading to unconsciousness.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl testified that the technique is safe. Since 1997 there have been no deaths and few injuries reported in Spokane from using the technique, Meidl said.

Other law enforcement officers testified that the technique was safer than using a stun gun on combative people.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs supported the bill.

The committee also heard testimony on a bill to make it easier to sue law enforcement agencies in the case of a person who was killed or injured will committing a felony which was the cause of their death.

Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Charleena Lyles, said the officers who killed Lyles in effect “declared Charleena guilty of felony charges without due process.”

Lyles, a 30-year-old Black, pregnant woman, was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in 2017. The officers shot Lyles seven times after she called 911 on a Sunday morning to report a burglary at her apartment. The officers said she had suddenly threatened them with one or two knives and that they didn’t find evidence of a burglary.

The committee also heard testimony on a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to report to Washington State University all incidents involving the use of force by law officers and all cases where law enforcement agencies made payments to victims of excessive use of force. The university would compile the data in a website and also make reports to the Legislature.

A separate bill would require that all law enforcement agencies would report to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs all incidents of the use of deadly force and all complaints against law officers that lead to investigations. The association would collect the data in a report to the governor and the Legislature.