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Justice Department prohibits federal officers from using chokeholds, limits no-knock warrants

Department of Justice. (Scott "Skippy"/Flickr)
September 18, 2021

Federal officers are now prohibited from using chokeholds and executing warrants unannounced in some circumstances, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Under the new policy, law enforcement officials cannot use “chokeholds” or “carotid restraints” unless deadly force is authorize. These restraints restrict the airway or blood flow to the brain when pressure is applied to the neck.

The policy also limits “no knock” entries to situations that would create an imminent threat of physical violence to the agent or another person, a restriction the department said is “narrower than what is permitted by law.”

If an agent wants to execute a no-knock warrant for any reason other than public safety, they must get approval from a federal prosecutor and law enforcement leadership before seeking judicial authorization, the memo said.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the restrictions “are among the important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability.”

The policy change comes after a review of the department’s law enforcement agencies led by Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, according to a news release.

“As members of federal law enforcement, we have a shared obligation to lead by example in a way that engenders the trust and confidence of the communities we serve,” Monaco said.

Over the past year, cities and states have banned chokeholds and no-knock warrants in response to nationwide protests over police brutality sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The city of Minneapolis agreed to ban chokeholds after Floyd, 46, died when former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020.

Local governments or law enforcement officials in at least 23 cities completely or partially banned the use of chokeholds, carotid restraints, or both following the protests. At least 17 states, including Minnesota, also enacted legislation to ban or restrict the practice, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Even before Floyd was killed, Tennessee, Illinois and several large cities and police departments already banned or limited police hold techniques that restrict the airway or blood flow to the brain when pressure is applied to the neck.

The New York City Police Department prohibited the technique in 1993, but it wasn’t until after Floyd’s death that the city attempted to pass a law against chokeholds. The law was named after Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by a cop in 2014, but a state Supreme Court judge struck it down in June according to the New York Times.

Officials in Louisville, Kentucky, banned “no-knock warrants” after police shot and killed Taylor while executing such a warrant in March 2020. The state followed suit more than a year after Taylor’s death.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, landmark legislation that is still awaiting Congressional approval, would also ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants and carotid restraints. Even if Congress were to enact legislation, experts question whether state and local law enforcement agencies would comply.


(c) 2021 USA Today

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