An NBC News analysis of police records finds that in the past five years, 44 people have been rendered unconscious by the Minneapolis police with the neck "restraint" tactic that killed George Floyd. Three-fifths of those who lost consciousness were Black, and "almost all" of the 44 were male and under the age of 40. Police experts NBC spoke with say "that number appears to be unusually high."
They've used the tactic "at least 237 times during that span, and in 16 percent of the incidents the suspects and other individuals lost consciousness." The tactic is defined by law enforcement as an officer using an arm or leg to "compress someone's neck without directly pressuring the airway." Unless it's at least one member of the Minneapolis police who uses that tactic specifically to pressure the airway and render their charge unconscious. Or dead. That could be why the tactic "is neither taught nor sanctioned by any police agency," according to more than a dozen experts NBC interviewed. It's also not sanctioned by the Minneapolis Police Department, according to a city official NBC interviewed.
However, the version of the Minneapolis police policy manual that is available online does not prohibit the tactic. The protocol, NBC says, appears not to have been updated for more than eight years. The manual is dated July 28, 2016. The new restraint protocol is dated April 16, 2012 and says: "The unconscious neck restraint shall only be applied … 1. On a subject who is exhibiting active aggression, or; 2. For life saving purposes, or; 3. On a subject who is exhibiting active resistance in order to gain control of the subject; and if lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective."
NBC spoke with Ed Obayashi, deputy sheriff in Plumas County, California, and a national use-of-force expert who works with California police agencies. He said departments have been banning the tactic because of its "inherent life-threatening potential" and because officers could be interpreting a suspect's struggle to breathe as resistance. "It's common sense," Obayashi said. "Any time you cut off someone's airway or block blood flow to the brain, it can lead to serious injury or death as we have seen in so many of these tragedies. By using this tactic, it's a self-fulfilling tragedy."
"The [Minneapolis] policy doesn't appear to reflect what California and other law enforcement agencies using best practices recognize, which is if officers don't use extreme caution with this force option, the likelihood of serious injury or death rises significantly," Obayashi told NBC. "This seems to be a routine practice by the Minneapolis Police Department," said Obayashi. "As a cop, the tone is there, 'Use it when you think it's appropriate.'"
They've found it to be "appropriate" 237 times. According to NBC: "In most cases, there was no apparent underlying violent offense" that led to the restraint. One was 14-years-old in a domestic abuse incident. One was a 17-year-old shoplifter. One was George Floyd, already handcuffed and in custody beside a police cruiser.