by Chuck Sharman
The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”)—parent agency of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—announced on September 14, 2021, that it was banning immediately the use of chokeholds and “carotid restraints” by federal law enforcement agents.
Controversy over this type of maneuver has exploded since New York Police Department (“NYPD”) officers used it in July 2014 to restrain Eric Garner, whom they suspected of selling contraband cigarettes. The NYPD had already banned chokeholds at the time Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in one, killing him and resulting in a $5.4 million settlement paid to settle a lawsuit filed by his family.
At the same time, the DOJ also announced it was severely curtailing the types of situations in which federal agents are permitted to enter private property without first announcing themselves. The use of a so-called “no-knock” warrant at the wrong address by Louisville Police Department (“LPD”) officers in March 2020 resulted in the death of Emergency Medical Technician Breonna Taylor and a $12 million payout in September of that year to settle a lawsuit filed by her family.
Grand juries declined to indict either Pantaleo or Jonathan Mattingly, the LPD officer who fired the fatal shot at Taylor.
Prior to its new announcement, the DOJ followed guidelines laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1985 ruling in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), which allows the use of chokeholds to prevent a crime suspect from fleeing or when the suspect poses a risk of death or serious injury to the agent or others. The new DOJ policy permits the use of the restraint technique by a federal agent only in the latter case.
The agency’s former policy regarding “no-knock” warrants mirrored its stance on chokeholds, allowing their use whenever there was a risk that a suspect might flee. Under the new DOJ policy, a request to use a “no-knock” warrant must now be approved by a supervisor and filed with a judge only in cases where the agent believes announcing himself will present a threat to his own life or the lives of others.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland called the new policies “important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability.”
Sources: DOJ.gov, Politico
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