LAS VEGAS (AP) — A neck hold that police used on an unarmed man at a Las Vegas Strip casino over the weekend was used an average of about once a week last year amid a national debate about the technique that is banned in many cities.
Police call it a “lateral vascular neck restraint” that involves an arm around the neck to subdue suspects. Critics call it a difficult-to-perform physical maneuver that should not be used.
“Officers either hold for too long, or it becomes a chokehold that can result in death,” said Cal Potter, an attorney who represented a family that settled a lawsuit for more than $1 million after Charles Bush, 39, died in 1991 at the hands of a Las Vegas police officer using the hold that was not sanctioned at the time.
New York City banned the practice in 1993, years before the death of Eric Garner, a black man whose final words, “I can’t breathe,” became part of the national debate over police brutality. Garner died in Staten Island.
Police in the two next-largest southern Nevada cities outside Las Vegas also ban the practice.
“The use of the carotid restraint can cause the unintentional death of a person on whom it is applied,” says the Henderson police policy that classifies the restraint as deadly force.
A Las Vegas police use-of-force report says the maneuver was used by its officers 632 times over a 10-year span, dropping from 88 times in 2007 to 45 times in 2015 and 51 last year.
The agency is drawing criticism after 40-year-old Toshii Sebastian Brown led two uniformed officers on a chase through The Venetian resort to the driveway area, where he shook off the effects of a stun gun and punches.
Police say Brown couldn’t be revived after an officer grabbed him in the neck hold.
Brown was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time after the 1 a.m. Sunday confrontation. Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said Tuesday that a ruling on what killed Brown is pending.
“They like to say it’s not a chokehold, but the technique is a fancy name for a chokehold,” said Brent Bryson, another Las Vegas lawyer who handles in-custody wrongful death cases and has questioned police officers under oath about use-of-force.
“It should not be used,” Bryson said, “because it can result in death quickly if it’s used incorrectly.”
Brown also used the name Tashi Sebastian Farmer and Tashii Farmer-Brown. He grew up in Hawaii, where records show he was released from prison in January 2016 after serving about five years for assaulting his girlfriend. He pleaded guilty in February in Las Vegas to misdemeanor driving under the influence.
Brown was a father of two children in Hawaii and lived with his mother in Las Vegas where he had a business selling shoes, hats and clothing, said Tynisa Braun, a cousin in Honolulu.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is heading calls for the carotid artery restraint to be banned in Las Vegas.
Officer Jacinto Rivera, a department spokesman, declined to say how many of the 632 people placed in the neck hold in Las Vegas died or suffered lasting injuries over the 10-year span.
Police have not commented about Brown’s death beyond a written statement on Sunday. A news briefing is expected Wednesday afternoon.
The officers involved have not been identified, and it wasn’t clear if they remained on-duty while the department investigates.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said there will be a public use-of-force review to air the findings of the investigation of Brown’s death.