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Utah police chokeholds
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Lawmakers support bill prohibiting police chokeholds

(Utah State Capitol. Credit: Paul Nelson, file)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL – The controversial police tactic of kneeling on someone’s neck is one step closer to being banned in the state. Lawmakers approve a bill that bans the practice and seriously limits when an officer can use chokeholds. 

The beginning process of banning police chokeholds in Utah 

The members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee all agreed during their meeting–they were furious after watching the video of Minneapolis officers kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.  Representative Sandra Hollins calls the practice inhumane and says other lawmakers agree.

“We all agreed that this was not a partisan issue, that it was a human rights issue,” Hollins says.

Along with prohibiting kneeling on the neck, the draft legislation also prohibits an officer from using any kind of restraint method that restricts breathing or blood circulation, leading to unconsciousness. 

Additionally, it prohibits officers from being trained on how to use these hold.  The last item got some push-back, as some committee members say a carotid restraint, or sleeper hold, can be less damaging than the use of a police stick. 

Law enforcement push back against the bill

However, Lone Peak Police Chief Brian Gwilliam, who also represents the Utah Chiefs of Police Association doesn’t agree. He says police chokeholds and carotid restraints aren’t taught to young officers, anyway.

“It’s something that we haven’t taught.  I haven’t taught that in my agency and I’ve been the chief here for seven years.  I went to the academy 25-26 years ago and that was not part of the curriculum,” said Gwilliam. 

Senator Luz Escamilla says the bill doesn’t prevent officers from using any method of self-defense if their lives are in danger.

She says, “We understand that at one point you may use that, and we’ll deal with that in future conversations of levels of escalation or de-escalation.”

Despite the small amount of push-back, the draft legislation was approved unanimously by the committee. If the bill is enacted, an officer using the kneeling method could be charged with aggravated assault.

Senator Evan Vickers says, “Should there be a penalty associated if this action is used and harm is caused?  The answer was, again, universally yes.  So, this bill sets up a process on how that could be addressed.”

Another bill approved by the committee would penalize someone if they deliberately attempted to infect a first responder with COVID-19, although, support for the bill was not as strong. 

Some lawmakers took issue with how the bill specified coughing on an officer as a criminal offense. The committee agreed to rewrite the draft legislation to take coughing out of the bill.