New York City’s controversial anti-chokehold law — which aims to restrict NYPD use of the kind of chokehold used by a Minneapolis police officer in the 2020 death of George Floyd — was reinstated by a state appeals court on Thursday.
Police use of chokeholds is already banned under state law. The City Council declared police use of chokeholds illegal under city law, making it a criminal misdemeanor for officers to restrain someone by “sitting, kneeling or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm.”
A panel of Appellate Division judges unanimously overruled a decision last summer by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lawrence Love, who struck down the city law in a 17-page decision that called it “unconstitutionally vague.”
“[The] Supreme Court should not have found the diaphragm compression ban to be unconstitutionally vague,” the panel of judges wrote in the Thursday decision. “The diaphragm compression ban is sufficiently definite to give notice of the prohibited conduct and does not lack objective standards or create the potential for arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.”
The judges wrote that that police officers will know using their common sense when they are restricting a person’s breathing, and added that it will be up to the prosecution to prove each case brought under the law.
“A trained police officer will be able to tell when the pressure he is exerting on a person’s chest or back, in the vicinity of the diaphragm, is making it hard for the person to breathe, just as a driver should be able to tell when the amount of alcohol he consumed is making it unsafe for him or her to drive,” the judges wrote.
The ruling incensed the Police Benevolent Association, which represents rank-and-file police officers.
“Our city leaders need to realize that this ruling deals a direct blow to our fight against the violence that is tearing our city apart,” said PBA President Pat Lynch.
Lynch called the city law “ill-conceived,” and said it “makes it virtually impossible for police officers to safely and legally take violent criminals into custody — the very job that New Yorkers are urgently asking us to do.”
The PBA and 17 other police unions are joined together in the lawsuit seeking to strike down the law. Lynch said his union is weighing a further appeal.
Though the city won the appeal, a spokesman for Mayor Adams on Thursday noted that he still takes issue with the law, which was approved by the City Council during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
“While [the mayor] supports the intent of the Council’s chokehold law, he stands by his previous comments that the law as currently written will constrain police officers from being able to apprehend dangerous individuals,” said Jonah Allon, a spokesman for Mayor Adams.
With Michael Gartland