2020 brought Black Lives Matter awareness and protests to towns and cities all over Maine, from Abbot to Youngtown. According to the Bangor Daily News, as a result of these protests, in June 2020, a statewide Use of Physical Force Policy was adopted for all law enforcement. 

Use of Physical Force Policy

The Use of Physical Force Policy prohibits law enforcement agencies from the continued use of choke holds (and similar) in interactions with the public or potential suspects when faced with resistance. Each police agency in the state must ban the use of choke holds, and they must create a policy for more reasonable police officer behavior when faced with resistance, to replace the use of choke holds. Furthermore, any police officer who sees another police officer using unreasonable or excessive force is supposed to intervene. 

What’s a Choke Hold?

A choke hold and a neck restraint are the same thing. Before the Use of Physical Force Policy, Maine police officers were allowed to use two types of choke holds to make someone unconscious—and restrain them. According to Police magazine, one type of choke hold had a police officer squeezing the front of someone’s neck to prevent airflow to the brain (respiratory). The other type of choke hold had a police officer squeezing the sides of someone’s neck to prevent blood flow to the brain (carotid). This is how it worked:

  • A police officer would press a forearm into the front of someone’s neck so no air could get through their windpipe, preventing them from breathing. 
  • A police officer would wrap an arm around someone’s neck and press into the sides of the neck so no blood could get through the arteries, preventing blood flow to their brain.

It seems clear that both types of neck restraints intrinsically rely on each police officer to gauge how much pressure is enough to incapacitate versus how much pressure is enough to kill. And it seems likely that, hyped up on the adrenaline in the moment, a police officer might misjudge the appropriate amount of pressure or fail to take into account the fragility of a potential suspect’s windpipe.

What If It Happened to You?

If you have been the recipient of a choke hold at police hands and were injured by it, you may have a case for suing the police department and city. If someone in your family was the recipient of a choke hold at police hands and was killed by it, you do have a case for suing the police department and city. You need expert legal advice, now. The sooner, the better.

In the examples above, the police officers who used a choke hold were using excessive and unreasonable force and may be prosecutable for it. You need to know more about your rights after experiencing police brutality, and you need information about how the law and courts work if you want to prosecute.