Use of force: Brevard police condemn neck restraints, hope for peaceful protests
Local police have largely condemned the type of neck restraint that was used on George Floyd resulting in his death, saying that it is not something most officers in the area are trained to use.
Floyd died last week as Minneapolis police were in the act of arresting him for suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Videos shot by bystanders showed officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for him to stop and repeatedly said he couldn't breath. Three other officers stood by.
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Floyd eventually lost consciousness and died. The four officers were quickly fired and have since been charged in his death.
Palm Bay Police Department Chief Nelson Moya called the video "horrific" in a statement released this week.
"As a police officer of 30 years, I can assure you that is not a common police practice," he said of the neck restraint used on Floyd.
Officials with Melbourne, Cocoa and Palm Bay also said they do not train officers to kneel on the necks of suspects to restrain them.
Moya said one of the governing principles behind Palm Bay police is accountability.
"I'm hoping that police officers have the moral courage and strength of character to challenge each other when times get tough," he said. "To stand before one another and prevent things from going wrong."
That accountability, Moya said, is necessary to build public trust, without which "we cannot operate as an agency and we risk public safety."
Cocoa Police Department also issued a statement on the death of George Floyd and how he died.
"What happened to George Floyd should never have happened," the statement reads. "We stand with those who demand justice and real change, and we condemn the actions of those involved in this tragic death. We understand there is outrage, anger and frustration over these injustices."
"We stand united with our community to peacefully enact change but we do not condone rioting, looting, and violent protests we see around the country. We support the rights of people to demonstrate and make their voices heard and we will protect this way of life."
The Brevard County Sheriff's Office did not respond to FLORIDA TODAY's request for comments for this story. Earlier this week, WFTV news in Orlando quoted Sheriff Wayne Ivey as saying his deputies can use neck restraints in certain limited circumstances, but that the actions that Chauvin used on Floyd are not permitted.
“You’ve got them from behind with your arm around their neck. Again, its temporary restraint to gain compliance and control," the story quotes Ivey. "And once the compliance and control is gained, it's immediate de-escalation. It’s not ongoing holding and holding."
A conversation:How do we enact change after George Floyd?
Use of force and protests
Although Brevard County has not seen the large-scale protests seen in bigger American cities, police agencies are preparing as more rallies are scheduled.
Some of the protests have led to violence and looting, though that appears to be caused a small number of people. Some protest organizers and elected officials believe the violence has been sparked by "outside agitators," though there has not been much evidence to back that up.
Video and first-hand accounts show rubber bullets and tear gas deployed on protesters across the country, many of whom had been protesting peacefully.
In West Melbourne, where protests have been held on Palm Bay Road, Deputy Chief Rich Cordeau says "force will only be used to meet force" when it comes to protest actions and that police will seek to de-escalate tensions first.
"It’s a decision that has to be made when the situation arises. This isn’t something we deal with on an everyday basis, obviously," he said.
"We’ve had nothing but peaceful protesters. We encourage that and people have the right to express themselves in a peaceful manner," he added.
Lt. Mike Smith with Palm Bay police also said that in some cases around the country people are "infiltrating" peaceful protests to commit crimes and that force will only be used as a last resort.
"Unfortunately, sometimes those breaking the law refuse to comply with officers’ lawful commands and the use of force is then authorized if an arrest is necessary," he said.
"When good people see these crimes occurring, they need to disperse from the area so the police can handle the issues at hand," Smith said. "They can always return peacefully when criminals are removed. Otherwise, they are making a conscious decision to put themselves in an environment where tear gas and other non-lethal options are employed by police."
Contact Vazquez at firstname.lastname@example.org, 321-917-7491 or on Twitter @tyler_vazquez. Support his work by subscribing to FloridaToday.com.