Using a chokehold is now considered to be deadly force by the Anne Arundel County Police Department, just as when an officer fires a handgun, according to department policies adjusted in the aftermath of an excessive force lawsuit filed last month.
The change in policy does not outlaw chokeholds — it says they can use such techniques only if it’s in defense of a human life — but calls for extra levels of review when an officer intentionally employs any move “that restricts oxygen or blood flow to the head or neck,” the written directive spells out.
Implemented Aug. 11, the change came more than a week after County Executive Steuart Pittman promised reform following his review of the lawsuit and related video. He said he was shocked by the footage and complaint, in which a Black man claims a white detective knelt on his neck during an unjustified arrest.
Pittman told The Capital that he was satisfied with the change.
“It doesn’t prevent an officer from using force to protect life, and their job is to protect life,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.
Because intentional chokeholds are now considered deadly force, there’s increased scrutiny in the review process under the new directive.
O’Brien Atkinson, president of the county’s largest police union, said Pittman made sure to listen to police command staff and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in guiding the change.
“Obviously we’re not deaf to what’s happening across the country and the impression that people have of neck restraints,” Atkinson said. “We anticipated there would be a change and we were able to work with the administration as best we could to implement a change...”
“We made sure there was language in the policy that it had to be intentional. It may require some additional training on the part of the police department.”
Just like when an officer fires a gun intentionally in the line of duty, the platoon commander of the district where the use of deadly force occurred must respond to the scene and treat it like a crime scene. He would start a log of people who come and go, confiscate weapons used during the incident and notify a host of police units.
The commander must contact the Criminal Investigation Division, the Evidence Collection Unit, the public information office and a representative of whichever union represents the officer involved.
Homicide detectives will investigate chokeholds — just as they do when an officer fires his or her sidearm or uses force that results in serious injury or death — and submit an investigation report to the State’s Attorney’s Office within 30 days, according to the department policy. County prosecutors decided whether the officer acted lawfully and, if not, whether to file criminal charges.
At the police department, another unit will conduct a “detailed administrative investigation” within 20 days of getting the investigation report from the homicide unit and decide whether the officer’s actions violated any department policies, in which case the matter would be referred to the Internal Affairs Division for further investigation and to the chief.
The department uses progressive discipline, which considers the seriousness and circumstances of the incident, the officer’s disciplinary record and work performance, the negative impact on the agency and the likelihood of similar incidents occurring. Disciplinary action ranges from “verbal reprimand” to firing.
After using deadly force and completing reporting requirements, the officer involved is placed on paid administrative leave. They have to complete training and be cleared by a mental health professional to return to work within 10 days of the incident, according to the policy.
The Morning Sun
“Our officers already avoid using chokeholds in any kind of circumstance...” Atkinson said. “If someone is required to use a chokehold or neck restraint, then they can bring out homicide detectives or anyone they want, a justifiable use of force is a justifiable use of force.”
Atkinson said the department should provide additional training for officers in light of the change.
Anytime an officer uses nondeadly force on the job, which included chokeholds until the new policy, the circumstances are supposed to be reviewed to determine whether the officer’s actions were in accordance with or in violation of department policy.
When an officer uses force, they’re required to notify their supervisors immediately and the supervisors are required to go to the scene where an injury occurred.
Then, the officer writes a detailed report and makes an entry into a computer system, said Marc Limansky, police spokesman. He or she must include basic details and the “type of force used, behaviors of the suspect(s)/detainees, information on witnesses or other citizen info, names of other officers involved, the existence of any applicable video and any other pertinent information.”
The officer’s entry is reviewed by his or supervisor, and additional supervisors all the way up to the major commanding the bureau where they work. That can include the Bureau of Patrol, which is overseen by Maj. Katie Goodwin. If anyone in the chain of command finds an issue with the officer’s actions, the Internal Affairs Section and the police chief are notified, Limansky said.
“The circumstances surrounding every use of deadly force will be highly examined during post-incident review,” the policy reads.