Nevada Assembly passes bill banning police chokeholds

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Steve Marcus

Richard Vogel holds a flier outside the Mob Museum before a Police Use of Force panel at the museum Wednesday, July 25, 2018. The flier features Tashii Brown who died in 2017 after a Metro Police officer placed him in an unauthorized chokehold.

Sat, Aug 1, 2020 (9:41 p.m.)

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Assembly passed a police reform bill on Saturday banning chokeholds by law enforcement, while the Senate is considering a bill to scale back protections for officers during investigations into misconduct.

The second special session of the Nevada Legislature in three weeks was called partially to address police reform following the killing of a Black man by white Minnesota police in May. George Floyd’s death has brought calls for swift action from lawmakers across the nation to act on racial injustice and police brutality.

The Assembly’s bill, which passed through the chamber 38-4, with four Republicans voting against it, would ban chokeholds, institute procedures around misuse of force and reaffirm the right for citizens to film law enforcement activity.

The bill defines a chokehold as any technique applying pressure to the neck to restrict airflow or blood to the brain via the carotid arteries.

Chokeholds have been a contentious issue in police relations for years, most notably in the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by New York police. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” have become an rallying cry for activists.

In May 2017 in Las Vegas, 40-year-old Tashii Brown died after Metro Police officer Kenneth Lopera put him in a “rear naked choke,” which was not allowed or taught by the agency. Manslaughter charges against Lopera were dropped in 2018, and the department this week settled with Brown’s family for $2.2 million.

Metro allows officers to use the lateral vascular neck restraint, a technique to cut off blood flow to the brain, only when an officer’s life is in danger. Metro lobbyist Chuck Callaway said that the lateral vascular neck restraint was used 21 times in 2019. Callaway said that Metro was in support of the bill.

“Based on the totality of what we were seeing and also listening to concerns of the community that were speaking out against lateral vascular neck restraints and specifically chokeholds, all that led to our decision to move that up to the level of deadly force,” Callaway said.

The Reno Police Department has recently banned chokeholds except in “the most extreme circumstances.”

Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, who spoke on the bill in both chambers, said the limitations on chokeholds would not apply in situations where an officer is defending themselves from deadly force. The bill, Yeager said, would also apply to situations where an officer blocked a person’s ability to breathe by kneeling on their back or neck.

Some Republicans in the Assembly backed the bill, though Minority Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington, along with Assemblymen Chris Edwards, R-Henderson, John Ellison, R-Elko, and Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, did not.

Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas, a retired assistant sheriff with Metro, said the bill isn’t perfect, but it will codify good practices for law enforcement. He voted in favor of the bill.

“I think it will actually improve community trust and make our organizations adopt some best practices that are utilized in our state already,” Roberts said.

The bill was heard in the Senate Saturday evening, but the chamber did not hold a vote.

Senate’s bill

The Senate’s bill proposes changes to provisions passed during the 2019 session that increase officer protections during investigations.

The protections include: back pay to law enforcement suspended without pay for an investigation and later cleared or found not guilty; prohibited the use of an officer’s compelled statement in a civil case without their consent; and opening an investigation into an officer if an incident happened more than a year before the complaint was made before.

The bill brought forward in the Senate would repeal some of those measures, including prohibitions on using an officer’s compelled statement and removing the one year statute of limitations.

Many progressive activists spoke in opposition against the changes being proposed, which they said did not go far enough. The want a complete repeal of the 2019 bill.

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