California Assembly lawmakers recently passed a bill banning police from using face-down holds that have led to multiple accidental, asphyxiation-related deaths during arrests.
Bill AB490, approved by the Assembly on a 50-15 vote, now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into law.
Assemblyman Mike Gipson, a former police officer, authored the bill after several unintended deaths in police custody due to “positional asphyxia” – or the inability to breathe after lying flat on one’s stomach for an extended period of time.
His bill then gained further attention after the death of Mario Gonzales, 26, who was pinned down by four Alameda Police Department officers for more than five minutes before he died, despite the department having a policy that advises against face-down holds for extended periods.
Gipson said the focus of the bill is to prevent restraints that carry a high risk of asphyxiation.
“This does not mean that a police officer can no longer restrain anyone when they need to for public safety, but it would mean that they cannot keep anyone from breathing/losing oxygen when restraining them,” the Democratic Assemblyman said.
According to the AP, the bill bars police from putting suspects in a face-down position while pressing down on their back with hands, elbows or knees.
Law enforcement leaders criticized the bill as being too vague and redundant, as police departments already have policies on how to safely detain someone without risking asphyxiation.
Gipson’s bill defines the holds as putting someone in a position that compresses their airway and reduces their ability to breathe.
Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force consultant to law enforcement agencies, said that police departments already have policies advising on these kinds of holds.
“Every department has policies on this,” Obayashi, also a deputy sheriff and legal adviser for the Plumas County sheriff’s office, said. “Every law enforcement agency trains their officers, advises them, cautions them on this very restraint issue — positional asphyxia.”
The California State Sheriffs’ Association argued the bill would put officers in more dangerous situations and could make it more likely that officers use more deadly alternatives, like batons or stun guns, to subdue subjects.
“[The bill] neglects situations in which a subject creates a threat of death or serious bodily injury to an officer or another person,” the association said. They added that by barring holds, officers will be more likely to use alternatives like batons and Tasers.
Gipson’s bill expands on California legislation passed last year to ban chokeholds. The legislation, which was part of a series of reform laws passed after the death of George Floyd, barred arm-based chokeholds that apply pressure to a person’s windpipe or carotid artery.