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Councilman Introduces Law to Make NYPD Chokeholds Illegal

By Jeff Mays | November 17, 2014 8:48am
 Eric Garner died after an officer used a chokehold while trying to arrest him in Staten Island.
Eric Garner died after an officer used a chokehold while trying to arrest him in Staten Island.
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New York Daily News

CITY HALL — Queens Councilman Rory Lancman said he introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for NYPD officers to use chokeholds after seeing a video of the deadly struggle between Staten Island man Eric Garner and police.

The medical examiner's office said the hold, which NYPD officers are banned from using, helped cause the death of the 43-year-old asthmatic father of six who could be heard on the video saying, "I can't breathe."

"The chokehold is prohibited by NYPD policy but there is no enforcement. When there is no enforcement there is no deterrent," said Lancman. "This law would be a deterrent."

The bill defines a chokehold as a wrapping of the hands or arms around someone's neck and compressing their windpipe to restrict the flow of air or squeezing their carotid artery to interrupt the flow of blood.

Officers caught using chokeholds now are subject only to departmental discipline or a reprimand from the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

A recent report from the CCRB found that use of chokeholds by the police has doubled since 2001.

Only 10 of more than 1,100 chokehold complaints received by the CCRB from 2009 to 2013 was substantiated.

The CCRB and police had shifting definitions of a chokehold, which prevented a proper evaluation and possible discipline in more than 150 complaints, according to the report.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have come out in strong opposition to the bill.

"I think the best way to handle that is through NYPD policy and what's going to happen is the retraining of the entire police department, on a variety of approaches, including the fact that the chokehold is not an appropriate tool to use," de Blasio said Wednesday at an unrelated press conference.

"But I've also said publicly, and I'll say it again — there are some exceptional situations and I want to respect our men and women in uniform who may be put into a life-and-death situation, literally one-on-one, them and a perpetrator who could literally mean to kill them, and they have to defend themselves — and that might involve a chokehold.

"And so I don't think it should be made a matter of a legal prohibition, I think it should be handled by department policy."

Lancman said the mayor's stance takes the city backwards since the NYPD chokehold ban is an outright prohibition that does not include a clause for life-threatening situations.

In addition, said Lancman, any officer charged with using a chokehold will still have a right to trial.

"The officer can explain to the court why he or she used the chokehold. If officers claim their lives were in danger, the court could take that into consideration," Lancman said.

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan has impaneled a grand jury to examine Garner's death. Garner's family has filed a notice of claim that they intend to sue the city for $75 million.

Donovan declined comment about Lancman's proposed legislation last week.

"I'm in the middle of an investigation so right now I'm no going to talk about chokeholds" Donovan said.

Brooklyn Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Robert Cornegy are co-sponsors of the bill.

Lancman has also introduced related legislation that would require the NYPD to record use-of-force incidents and produce an annual report, and to change the city charter to only allow officers to use force equivalent to the level of threat they are facing.

If it wasn't for the video, Lancman said Garner would have been "just a black guy who resisted arrest and died."

"That video was appalling and cried out for action," Lancman said.