A CLOSER LOOK: law enforcement’s ‘use of force’ during arrests

A Closer Look

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ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Local law enforcement has made arrest policy changes after the death of George Floyd.

Floyd is the man who died in police custody on Memorial Day 2020 in Minneapolis.

Now in a Minneapolis courtroom, former police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial in Floyd’s death. Entered into evidence by the prosecution was a video that showed Floyd handcuffed and face-down on the road with Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds.

The defense attorneys are presenting that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s back, according to court testimony.

Floyd was accused of passing a $20 counterfeit bill at a local market.

For years, law enforcement has used various techniques of chokeholds. In Arkansas, a carotid sleeper hold, also called vascular neck restraints, was used by Little Rock police. That hold has now been eliminated.

Strangulation — chokeholds, carotid sleeper holds, knee-to-neck restraints — are all forms of asphyxiation.

“This is a general term to describe a set of deaths that have one thing in common,” said Arkansas Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Kokes, “that is that the body can’t get oxygen to tissues where it’s needed.”


  • Mechanical asphyxia: This is also called ‘compression asphyxia.’ This involves physical force that hinders getting oxygen to the brain. Dr. Kokes gave an example of a person working on a car that is on a jack stand and the vehicle falls on them causing a compression force on the chest. While it’s not enough to crush them, this would impede normal breathing. The person is unable to move air in-and-out of the lungs and get new oxygen into the bloodstream. The levels drop, the person becomes unconscious and unless they are resuscitated, they are likely going to die.
  • Positional asphyxia: This is also called ‘postural asphyxia.’ A person under the influence of alcohol or drugs passed out in a position that compromised normal respiratory movements. Oxygen is not getting into the blood and the person can die.
  • Chemical asphyxia: This is when something is introduced into the body, or inhaled, such as carbon monoxide.

Pressure is put on the neck, as in strangulation cases, is a form of asphyxia death. “The main problem with pressure on the neck is not an airway compromise,” said Dr. Kokes, “it’s compression of the blood vessels in the neck, particularly the carotid arteries.”

Zones of the Neck Vector İllustration (Getty Image)

The carotid arteries are almost right next to the cervical spine in the neck and provide a major source of blood that goes into the brain. “If pressure is placed on the neck, the carotid arteries will become occluded,” said Dr. Kokes, “and inadequate amounts of oxygen will get to the brain.”

First would be unconsciousness, and if the pressure continues death will occur.

Dr. Kokes remembers in the 1980s, law enforcement in Arkansas used a technique called carotid sleeper hold (also called, vascular neck restraints by the Little Rock Police Department), which is a controlled form of strangulation. This was done by a law enforcement officer applying force to the front of the neck. “The officer would place the crook of their arm at the front of the person’s neck and squeeze, putting pressure on both sides of the neck where the carotid arteries are,” said Kokes. “The idea was to have the person lose consciousness, take the pressure off, and handcuff the person.”

The carotid sleeper hold is not used for a variety of reasons, mainly because it could cause brain damage or death. Eventually, it was considered too dangerous to use, according to Dr. Kokes.

There had been instances when a person died due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Some people may have underlying health conditions, substances in their system; that can aggravate the lack of oxygen to the brain. Law enforcement would not know that in a situation. “You don’t know if they [suspect] had that type of vulnerability,” said Dr. Kokes.


Chauvin and another officer responded to a domestic assault call on September 4. A mom reported to police that she had been assaulted by her (minor) son and daughter.

Prosecutors in the upcoming trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd want to introduce evidence of a 2017 arrest in which they say the officer held his knee on the back of a 14-year-old boy and ignored his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.

In the 2017 arrest, the 14-year-old was slow to comply with Chauvin and another officer’s instructions, so Chauvin grabbed the child by the throat, forced him to the ground, and put his knee on the boy’s neck before placing him in a prone position with a knee in his back, prosecutors said.

The boy told Chauvin “he could not breathe. And just like with Floyd, Chauvin ignored those pleas and refused to provide medical assistance,” Frank wrote.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nov. 2020


On June 17, 2020, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott signed Executive Order 2020-001 that banned its police force from using chokeholds. The decision was based on protests over Floyd’s death.

Also, the department had been using “vascular neck restraint,” but that will no longer be taught. Instead, the focus will be more on de-escalation tactics.

Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey said the department had already banned chokeholds but had allowed a technique known as a “vascular neck restraint.”

The order doesn’t prohibit an officer from using “any reasonable force” if because of actual physical contact they face an immediate threat of death or serious injury to themselves or anyone in their immediate vicinity.

Associated Press, June 17, 2020.

In 2020, Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) updated its “use of force” policy. “It now includes the prohibition of vascular restraints, and chokeholds, unless deadly force is authorized,” said WCSO Spokesperson Kelly Cantrell.

The Arkansas State Patrol updated its “use of force” policy several times over the years; most recently in February and August of 2020.

Dr. Kokes said there is a general misconception when causes of deaths are list as single things, when in fact it’s multi-factorial.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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