Many Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies have prohibitions on officers using chokeholds

Michael Braun
Fort Myers News-Press

Nearly all law enforcement agencies in Lee and Collier counties have language in policy manuals prohibiting the kind of techniques that led to the death of George Floyd.

In the wake of Floyd's death May 25 in Minneapolis at the hands of a city police officer, protests across the country decried the so-called choke hold practices in general. Floyd died after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring his pleas that he could not breathe.

The four Minneapolis officers involved have been arrested and charged in Floyd's death.

A national organization, Campaign Zero, is calling on local, state, and federal lawmakers to take action to stop actions such as the choke hold and hold police accountable while a number of cities and states have banned the practice or started on legislation to do so.

And on June 8, Congress proposed a police reform bill — The Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Language in the bill would ban chokeholds like the one that killed Floyd, end use of no-knock warrants in drug cases, make lynching a federal crime, create a national misconduct registry for police and limit qualified immunity for police officers.

In New York:Cuomo pushes 'Say Their Name' reform to address police brutality, ban chokeholds in New York

And in Cincinnati:Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac: 'Any type of chokehold is not appropriate'

President Donald Trump, under political pressure over protests against police brutality, signed an executive order Tuesday that encourages law enforcement agencies to adopt high standards for the use of deadly force.

"We want law and order and we want it done fairly, justly, and we want it done safely," Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday.

The order will focus on: certifying police officers on de-escalation tactics; creating a database to track officers who have been accused of using excessive force, aiming to prevent them from being rehired at another police department; and launching a co-respondent program that would see mental health professional working more closely with police. 

Fort Myers

In Fort Myers, police Chief Derrick Diggs issued a memorandum June 6 that outlined the department's use of force policy.

"In reference to inquiries on #campaignzero we have posted a link to address how this falls in line with our already in place policies," the chief said in a Facebook posting.

In Fort Myers, police Chief Derrick Diggs issued a memorandum June 6 that outlined the department's use of force policy.

"We would like to take the time to again thank all #peaceful protesters however to remind that the first amendment does NOT give anyone the right to disobey lawful orders, physically attack others, steal, loot or destroy property," Diggs said.

FMPD's policy, as outlined in Diggs' memorandum to Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazimi, is as such:

"The Banning of Chokeholds: G.O. 6.1 Prohibitions: Due to the inherent risk of causing death or serious or permanent brain damage, any maneuver or tactic that prevents blood flow to the brain or obstruction of the individual’s airway is prohibited, except in cases where it is reasonably necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm and all other reasonable means of defense have been exhausted."

Dive Deeper:A Florida police chief condemned an officer's chokehold on a black man. Her department permitted it.

The action that led to Floyd's death, an officer kneeling on his neck, is a separate maneuver from the actual carotid hold that has been used at some police agencies.

That maneuver entails an officer placing an arm around the detainee's carotid artery in the neck area and applying pressure. It Is also sometimes described as a sleeper hold or blood choke.

The standard dictionary definition of such an action says it is a hold that involves strong choking pressure applied to the neck of another.

Collier County

The Collier County Sheriff's Office does not have a specific prohibition on officers using a chokehold.

"We do not have a policy, nor does our training reflect, that which authorizes or designates the chokehold practice as a response to resistance," said Karie Partington, the Collier Sheriff's media relations bureau manager. "Any maneuvers that would include actions like this would be considered deadly force."

Read:Ronnie Lillard of Fort Myers reconciles death of friend, mentor George Floyd

Members of the Collier County Sheriff's Office hold the line against protesters, Monday, June 1, 2020, on 5th Avenue South in Naples.

The Collier Sheriff's Office response to resistance policy does list threat levels and the appropriate responses to those levels by deputies including such things as a "soft, firm or strong  touch," pepper spray, handcuffs, batons, flashlights, flex cuffs, and leg irons.

Also outlined for Collier deputies are techniques that redirect, in a controlled manner, a subject to the ground to limit his/her physical resistance and to facilitate the application of restraint device, as well as techniques that force a subject to comply with a deputy as a result of the deputy inflicting controlled pain upon specific points in the subject's body, such as pressure point techniques.

More like this:‘We got you.’ A Collier deputy worried about walking with George Floyd protesters. Two women stepped up to escort him.

There is no mention of chokeholds, sleeper holds, neck restraints or similar techniques in the Collier Sheriff's Office response to resistance policy.

Lee County

The mention of chokeholds for the Lee County Sheriff's Office comes in the agency's response resistance policy manual in a list of definitions of forces, from deadly to restraining to defensive. The manual says restraining force is limited to holding and restraining persons, includes arm-lock and take-down holds, but "shall not include" carotid artery restraint or pain-inflicting or submission holds.

You may be interested in:Descendant of Robert E. Lee: bust removal in Fort Myers would be historical awakening

Plus:Robert E. Lee bust should be moved, say members of a Lee County founding family

The latest news:Fort Myers city attorney to look at legal options to remove Robert E. Lee bust as protesters rally

Around the region

SANIBEL

There are a number of other Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies that have specific prohibitions on officers using such maneuvers in effect.

"We already have a policy in place that prohibits restricting blood flow to the head or restricting respiration," said Sanibel Police Chief William F. Dalton.

CAPE CORAL

Sgt. Patrick O'Grady, public affairs officer for the Cape Coral Police Department, said his agency also has such a prohibition on chokeholds in place.

NAPLES

The Naples Police Department acknowledged it, too, has a directive prohibiting chokeholds.

Lt. Bryan McGinn, with the Naples Police Department's Professional Standards Division, provided a copy of the specific language: “The use of neck restraints or similar techniques with the potential for serious injury are not authorized, except in response to deadly force resistance.”

FGCU

Chief Steven Moore from the FGCU Campus Police Department said techniques such as the chokehold, described as are disallowed by his officers.

"It has been prohibited in our 'Use of Force General Order'," Moore said. The department's rules specify that "the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint is not an authorized incapacitation technique."

LEE COUNTY PORT AUTHORITY

Victoria Moreland, department director of communications and marketing for the Lee County Port Authority, said any training that airport police do with regard to physically controlling (especially during handcuffing) a subject prohibits the use of a knee to the neck.

As to any type of chokehold activity, Moreland said "That is not permitted at APD."

FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL

A section on use of control and response to resistance in the Florida Highway Patrol policy manual is annotated to clarify that unless deadly force is justified, control devices — such as an expandable batons — can't be used to apply pressure to the head, neck, or throat.

The manual also outlines under what circumstances an FHP trooper may use deadly force and says members of the Florida Highway Patrol shall in every instance seek to employ the minimum amount of control required to overcome physical resistance, prevent escapes, and effect arrests.

The FHP also has an Office of Professional Compliance. Duties of the commander of that office include creating and maintaining all "use of control reports" and identifying members who are involved in three or more "use of control" incidents during any 12-month period.

MARCO ISLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT

The Marco Island Police Department did not respond to a The News-Press request for information on their policy.

Protestors gathered at Centennial Park Monday, June 15, 2020, and marched to City Hall in opposition to the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee located in Downtown Fort Myers. The demonstrators attended the Fort Myers City Council meeting and voiced their concerns.

Around the state

In other parts of the state, some police departments are adding specific language to address instances that could result in a problem.

After a thorough review of policies, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Chief Holloway decided to add the following language to his department's general orders:

"Officers have a duty to intervene to prevent or stop wrongdoing by another officer when it is safe and reasonable to do so."

The language joins existing directives on reporting general order violations.

Connect with breaking news reporter Michael Braun: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook)@MichaelBraunNP (Twitter) or mbraun@news-press.com.

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