Tentative agreement would ban chokeholds, neck restraints by Minneapolis police

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, calling for public hearings as a way to break an impasse over insulin affordability legislation. At right is an empty insulin vial painted gold. - Steve Karnowski/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minneapolis Police Department will ban officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints and strengthen the requirements for officers to intervene if a colleague is using excessive force, under a new deal negotiated between the city and the state.

The tentative agreement — which still requires a judge’s approval — also seeks to give the public more access to officers’ disciplinary decisions and to limit the number of supervisors who can authorize the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other similar tactics to disperse demonstrators.

The deal came 11 days after 46-year-old George Floyd died after being pinned on the pavement by Minneapolis police, an act captured in a video that went viral and prompted protests against racism and police brutality around the world.

The council’s decision follows the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announcement Tuesday that it was filing a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis police and investigating whether it had engaged in racial discrimination over the past 10 years.

“This is just a start,” state Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said during a public meeting Friday. “There is a lot more work to do here, and that work must and will be done with deep community engagement.”

City leaders around the nation have come under intense pressure to make radical changes to policing in the wake of Floyd’s death. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would slash a planned budget increase for his department. In Minneapolis, a “Defund MPD” rally is planned for Saturday, and some council members are vowing to “dismantle” the department.

The new agreement instructs the department to update its policies and procedures “to prohibit the use of all neck restraints or chokeholds for any reason.”

A policy posted on the city’s website shows that officers are allowed to use neck restraints that keep people conscious if the person is “actively resisting.” They are authorized to use a neck restraint that renders someone unconscious if they are “exhibiting active aggression,” “for life saving purposes,” or if the person is “exhibiting active resistance” and “lesser attempts at control have been or would likely be ineffective.”

A Minneapolis Star Tribune review of Minneapolis police data found that the use of neck restraints has declined, compared to other types of force that officers use. Still, officers used neck restraints about 430 times since 2012, with people losing consciousness in 68 of those cases.

More than half of the people involved in neck restraint incidents were black. According to the latest census data, about 19% of people living in Minneapolis are black.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, in a news conference Friday afternoon, described the decision to ban chokeholds as “a pretty damn low bar, in terms of things we hadn’t had.”

“For those who think now is not the right time, and those who think that we need to think about this a little longer have certainly not been paying attention,” Walz said. “If you needed the wake-up call, it happened last Monday and continues to right now.”

In addition, the negotiated agreement also seeks to strengthen the requirement for officers to intervene if their colleagues are using too much force. It requires them to “immediately report the incident while still on scene by phone or radio to their Commander or their Commander’s superiors.”

It also notes that “regardless of tenure or rank,” officers must “attempt to safely intervene by verbal and physical means,” and notes that if they don’t, they “shall be subject to discipline to the same severity as if they themselves engaged in the prohibited use of force.”

The most recent publicly posted policy indicates that officers are required “to protect the public and other employees.

It states: “It shall be the duty of every sworn employee present at any scene where physical force is being applied to either stop or attempt to stop another sworn employee when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.”

Four Minneapolis police officers were fired and later charged in Floyd’s death. According to the latest court documents, former officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Prosecutors have said officer J Alexander Kueng held Floyd’s back, and Thomas Lane held his legs. A fourth officer, Tou Thao, was seen on video watching nearby.

The city’s agreement with the state also requires the chief or a deputy chief designated by the chief, to sign off on the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and other similar tactics to break up crowds. Police projectiles have caused serious injuries among demonstrators in the Twin Cities and nationwide.

The agreement also instructs the city to work through a backlog of disciplinary cases, respond to them faster in the future and post decisions publicly, when allowed by state law. It also allows the Office of Police Conduct Review to “proactively and strategically audit body worn camera … footage … and file or amend complaints on behalf of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department.”

Many of those changes will go into effect within days of a judge’s approval. The deal also gives the city until July 30 to compile a list of state laws that impede public transparency or officer discipline.

A copy of the negotiated agreement was filed in court Friday, officials said, and a judge will set a date for a hearing, which could occur as early as next week.

Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement Friday afternoon that he “will continue to work on efforts to improve public trust, public safety and transformational culture change of the MPD.”

“I will be bringing forth substantive policy changes,” he said.

As the state’s unprecedented investigation moves forward, many will be watching to see if it can accomplish what previous investigations have not been able to.

The police department entered into a federal mediation agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2003 aimed at addressing a host of police issues such as use of force, diversity and race relations. A Department of Justice review released in 2015 determined that some aspects of the department’s internal discipline process fell short and recommended changes.

To arrive at the details of the latest agreement, Lucero spoke privately with Minneapolis City Council members. They approved it unanimously during a public meeting Friday, and Mayor Jacob Frey signed off on it moments later.

“I think there were times where the commissioner pushed us, and there were times where I felt like we were saying, ‘No, bring the hammer a little harder down on us,’?” Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said during Friday’s public council meeting.

Minneapolis Director of Civil Rights Velma Korbel cautioned council members that while the initial stages of the state’s investigation have gone smoothly, other parts could be uncomfortable.

“It will be intense, and intentional, and it will feel and be invasive,” she said, “and it should be if we are serious about making the changes this time.”

Council Member Cam Gordon said he hopes the state Department of Human Rights “will be a strong and independent voice, and they won’t defer to the council or the mayor or anyone else.”

He, like some other council members, lamented that they hadn’t pushed harder for more drastic reforms in the past.

“We have failed in this capacity,” he said. “If there was an opportunity to plead guilty, I think we should plead guilty, and I think that is what we are doing with this.”

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(Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report.)

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)