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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
How martial arts can get you 25 years in prison (murder charge for use of choke hold)

Some of you may be aware of the case (USA) of Terry Thompson who used a choke hold to restrain John Hernandez after he was observed urinating in a car park. John Hernandez died as a result and this week Terry Thompson was sentenced to 25 years in prison. This video may be of interest to many here.

While the law around this kind of thing will vary from place to place (law is not the same here in the UK), the case does highlight for everyone that the use of force always caries serious risks physically and legally. The risk to benefit ratio therefore needs to be firmly tilted in the right direction.

While urinating in public is unlawful and unpleasant, the use of force in this case resulted in a death, a grieving family, a 25 year prison sentence and children growing up without their father (possibly mother too as she is also facing murder charges).

A tragic case and a strong reminder of the need to maintain a very high threshold for the use of force.

All the best,

Iain

 

Video of the incident:

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

If I recall correctly, in most States here in the US, chokes are considered "deadly force," and a number of police departments actually started calling some of their chokes "neck restraints" to keep considering them "less lethal" methods. It's been a few years since that whole thing went down, though, and I could be remembering incorrectly.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Wastelander wrote:
If I recall correctly, in most States here in the US, chokes are considered "deadly force," and a number of police departments actually started calling some of their chokes "neck restraints" to keep considering them "less lethal" methods.

As I understand it, here in the UK, the police don’t use them any more because of the difficulties in differentiating between a person resisting and intuitively fighting for their lives i.e. person can’t breathe so they fight to clear the airway; the officer mistakes this for resisting arrest, so they apply the hold with more force; and the cycle continues to a potentially fatal end. Add in the effects of positional asphyxia, if they are pined to the floor with an officer on top, and you have a very problematic mix.

There are problems with not learning them too though.  A few year ago, I did a course with a gentleman who was a leading expert witness in use of force cases. As part of the course, he showed us some footage of a police officer offer (a big guy) pulling a third party away from his colleague and the person he was trying to talk to over a preceding incident. The third party kept intervening despite being asked to move on. The officer put his arm around the third party’s neck and pulled him away. Because the officer has no training in strangles (because they are not used any more) he accidently strangled the third-party unconscious (in just a few seconds) and was visibly confused and surprised when the third-party fell. This was examined as potentially being excessive force on the part of the officer, but was dropped because it was accidental and due to a lack of training i.e. the officer himself was not at fault.

It would seem the key is to learn them properly, so they can be generally avoided (i.e. not used for restraint or arrest), and only used when higher levels of force are needed to ensure officer safety.

All the best,

Iain

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
As I understand it, here in the UK, the police don’t use them any more because of the difficulties in differentiating between a person resisting and intuitively fighting for their lives ... SNIP

I do believe that some States here have made them illegal, entirely, but not all. Honestly, I have seen a number of "restraint" methods in use by police that I see as excessive and dangerous, which I would like to see changed. A simple contrast was when, a few years ago, a group of Swedish police officers were visiting New York City, and witnessed an altercation on a train, which they broke up and used shoulder locks to pin one man to the floor, and bound the other man's arms behind him with his jacket. Both of these methods left both men able to breathe, and able to be reasoned with and calmed down. Compare that with all the instances of police here using strangles, or pinning people face-down on the ground by driving their knee into the suspect's back, restricting their breathing. I can definitely see the case for needing to understand them in order to avoid doing them improperly and, thus, even more dangerously, as well, as your example points out.