Former detective 'incensed' current officer investigated for use of carotid neck hold
Don DuPay, a former Portland police detective, told KATU he’s "incensed" that a current officer was recently put on paid leave and under investigation for allegedly using the carotid neck hold, also known as the "sleeper" hold, on a suspect.
The Portland Police Bureau considers the controversial move deadly force.
“While it doesn’t look good, it is good," DuPay said regarding the move.
A local civil rights leader told KATU he agrees with the police bureau's classification, but DuPay said it's wrong.
On a late Sunday night in May of 2017 a police officer confronted Tashii Brown, 40, outside a Las Vegas hotel. The unarmed black man was tased, punched and put into a neck hold for more than a minute before he died.
In 2014, a police officer in New York used a neck hold on another unarmed African-American man, 43-year-old Eric Garner, who later died.
Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Portland, outside a 7-Eleven store in 1985, Lloyd "Tony" Stevenson, a black Marine Corps veteran, died after an officer used the carotid hold on him during a scuffle. The 31-year-old off-duty security guard's death prompted the Portland Police Bureau to temporarily ban the carotid hold and later classify it as deadly force.
"Because it’s a form of deadly force the only time that an officer would be justified in using it is if they were in a situation where their life or the life of someone else, they believed it was in peril," said Sgt. Chris Burley, a spokesperson for the Portland Police Bureau.
He and Oregon's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training told KATU the city's officers are no longer trained on how to use the move.
"Community members had input on what constituted lethal force," Burley said. "The directive process ... also includes our subject matter experts.”
On Aug. 31, investigators say a Portland policeman in the Lents neighborhood used the carotid hold.
Investigators say at around 11:30 p.m. that night on Southeast Ramona Street Larry Wingfield and other officers ran into Jonathan Harris, 31. Harris was wanted for failing to show up to court in a theft case in Clackamas County.
Police say Harris was armed with a gun and resisting arrest, which he denies.
“It was excessive use of force," Harris told a KATU reporter in a jailhouse interview. "My life was threatened and endangered.”
After Wingfield tried to use the carotid hold on him, police say the officers were able to subdue him.
“It feels like you’re dying," Harris said. "It feels like someone’s trying to take you off this planet and you are in a fight for your life.”
“The sleeper hold is not deadly force," said DuPay.
The former Portland police detective told KATU he's outraged that Wingfield, a 26-year veteran of the bureau, was put on paid administrative leave and under investigation after the arrest.
"Guy had a gun. He got sleeper-holded. So what?” DuPay said. "He oughtta file his retirement papers tomorrow. If you treated me like that after 26 years I’d never talk to you again.”
DuPay said he worked for the Portland Police Bureau from 1961 to 1978 when he said the carotid hold was used widely.
“I used the sleeper hold hundreds of times and no one ever died from it," he explained.
Authorities say the carotid hold is used properly when an officer puts their arm around a person's neck, creating a space to protect the windpipe or trachea. As the officer applies pressure for a few seconds it squeezes the carotid arteries, reducing blood-flow to the brain, which often causes someone to pass out.
"It solves the problem of dealing with a difficult suspect," DuPay said. "If I can just put you to sleep for a couple of seconds and handcuff you, you’re not gonna get hurt. I’m not gonna get hurt. I don’t understand why all these officers continue with this pig pile stuff and get hurt.”
DuPay said classifying the carotid hold as deadly force is wrong in part because in Portland only one person, Stevenson, is on record as dying after its use by a police officer.
“You have to go back to what’s statistically significant," DuPay said. "How many have died from the use of the sleeper hold?”
KATU discovered that question is extremely difficult to answer.
News reports say over the years several people have died throughout the country after the move was performed on them.
But the FBI, which keeps statistics on crime by civilians, has done no public studies on the use of the carotid hold by law enforcement including how many times it's played a part in deaths. The U.S. Justice Department has no comprehensive data either.
In 2007, a comprehensive study by the Canadian Police Research Center found that "while no restraint methodology is completely risk free, there is no medical reason to routinely expect grievous bodily harm or death following the correct application of the vascular neck restraint ..."
"The problem with it is it’s never gonna look good. You grab somebody around the neck it doesn’t look good," said DuPay. "The whole idea of deadly force to fit your particular political correctness is nonsense.”
"If it’s politically correct to be concerned about the lives of your citizens, well then I stand with political correctness," E.D. Mondainé, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Portland branch, told KATU.
He said he doesn't buy DuPay's account of how the carotid hold has been used by police.
"It's a romantic story. And it’s a wonderful story and it works for some people who perhaps have – maybe he was one of those fortunate people who understood exactly how to do it and was able to contain the circumstances around him," said Mondainé. "But can he teach that technique as safely to every police officer and can he guarantee that he’s gonna get the same results?”
Mondainé said he agrees with the police bureau's policy classifying the carotid hold as deadly force and hopes it's phased out entirely.
He points to a study by Michael R. Mitchell, a lawyer who sued the the Los Angeles Police Department over its use of neck holds decades ago. It said 16 people died in L.A. after police used choke-holds on them from 1975 to 1982. Twelve of them were black males.
"The disproportionate rate of deaths that has occurred with African-American men with what is called again as a sleep hold is concerning," said Mondainé.
Portland police consider stun guns or Tasers - an alternative to the carotid hold - as non-deadly force.
But again the the FBI told KATU it's published no public studies on the use of stun guns by police including how many times the devices have been involved in deaths. The Justice Department has no comprehensive data either.
"Usually when you find something that’s ambiguous – where there’s smoke, there’s fire kind of like thing," said Mondainé. "Or there’s something to be said about – ‘there’s nothing going on here.’”
Reuters says Tasers have played a part in 13 deaths in Oregon since 2000 - two of them in Portland. Since then, the news agency says 1,042 deaths have involved the devices nationwide. Reuters says it could identify the race or ethnicity of the person who died in 773 of those cases. Of those, it says 332 were black, 293 were white and they estimate 134 were Hispanic.
"They need to stop. These Tasers need to stop," said DuPay. "You need to go back to humane methods.”
"When you even look at the name carotid you think something terrible," said Mondainé. "They can come up with something different than killing folks to keep them in line.”
Portland police say Officer Wingfield returned to duty on Sept. 17, though the use of force investigation continues.
Axon, the company that makes Tasers, says their products are not risk-free but claims studies show they're safer than other forms of force like batons, fists, take downs, tackles and impact munitions.
More of KATU's exclusive jailhouse interview with Jonathan Harris, the man whose violent arrest led to Wingfield's investigation, can be seen here.