HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The death of a New York man from a police choke hold has focused attention on the controversial and sometimes dangerous technique of subduing suspects.
While the practice is banned for police officers in New York City where Eric Garner died, the Honolulu Police Department allows a form of choke holds that some lawyers said is unsafe.
HPD sources told Hawaii News Now HPD officers here rarely use what HPD calls a "vascular neck restraint" because it's dangerous for both the police officers and the suspect since they have to be so close to each other as opposed to using pepper spray or an electric gun.
Hawaii News Now obtained HPD's "use of force policy" for a previous story earlier this year that listed a "vascular neck restraint" or "submission hold" as an intermediate use of force against suspects, similar to using a Taser gun. But HPD blacked-out the details of the submission policy.
Attorney Michael Green represented the family of Aaron Torres of Nanakuli who was mentally unstable and high on cocaine when three police officers pinned him down and he suffocated two years ago.
"It wasn't good police work, it wasn't intentional. It was really negligent what they did. It didn't have to happen and the cause of death was homicide," Green said.
In May, the Honolulu City Council agreed to pay the Torres family $1.4 million for his death.
"I guess I'd rather see someone properly Tased if I had to, where they're 10, 12 feet away from the officer, where I don't have to worry about whether their neck has been broken or their artery has been compressed to the point where they're dead," Green said.
In another case, the family of Steve Dinnan Kaneohe is suing the city after the medical examiner determined he was asphyxiated while in restraints by an HPD officer.
"So it's a perfect storm, as it were, of factors that result in someone getting terminally injured," said attorney Myles Breiner, who is representing the Dinnan family.
Breiner said Dinnan was face down and witnesses heard him saying he couldn't breath. The medical examiner ruled his death was a homicide.
Breiner said Honolulu should join other cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that no longer allow officers to use choke holds.
"Most jurisdictions have given up on it because the problem is not necessarily the procedure or the technique. It's the application of it," Breiner said.
Honolulu police sources said officers here are trained to never put pressure on the front of the throat, but instead on the back of the neck and to never apply that neck restraint for longer than 30 seconds.
Sources said the police department here considered "vascular neck restraints" more than five years ago, but decided it was safer to keep them as an option because that's better than using a baton or a gun which are almost guaranteed to injure the suspect in some way.