'Like you're dying': Suspect describes neck hold that led to investigation of officer
In an exclusive jailhouse interview, 31-year-old Jonathan Harris described having the controversial carotid neck hold, also known as the "sleeper" hold, put on him by a Portland police officer during an arrest.
“It feels like you would probably be ready to greet death," Harris told KATU.
Police say Harris pulled a gun and resisted arrest, which he denies.
The officer, Larry Wingfield, was put on paid administrative leave and under investigation.
KATU dug into his past as well as Harris's criminal record.
Over the years several people throughout the country have died after officers tried using the carotid neck hold on them during arrests.
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 Portland one person is on record as dying after an officer performed the move on them, Marine Corps veteran Lloyd "Tony" Stevenson, in 1985.
Since then Portland police have considered it deadly force, meaning it can only be used if an officer fears for their life or someone else's.
"It was excessive use of force," said Harris. "My life was threatened and endangered.”
He told KATU he plans to sue the Portland Police Bureau after his recent arrest in the Lents neighborhood.
Investigators say at around 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 Harris, armed with a handgun he stole from an ex-girlfriend, visited another ex-girlfriend on Southeast Ramona Street.
Harris said he was arrested at the end of the parking lot on his way out.
"I felt like there was some hostile nature in the way they approached me," he explained. "I felt something wasn’t right. I did not resist arrest at that time.”
Harris said officers told him he was wanted for failing to show up for court in a theft case in Clackamas County.
"I don’t really have time to respond and say, 'Yes or no, that’s me,' or confirm my identification at all," he told a KATU reporter.
Harris said officers then grabbed his wrists and tried to take a backpack off him before forcing him to the ground.
"I immediately asked them, ‘Whoa, why haven’t you read me my rights and why are you using excessive force, why are you being so rough?’” he said. "And I felt like they were trying to smear my face into the ground at that time. And that’s when the punches began. So I was getting kidney punched and punched in the ribs by one officer as he’s securing a choke hold on me. ... And he tells me, ‘I’m going to crack your effing skull open.’”
Investigators say Harris pulled a gun from his waistband and resisted officers, accusations he denies.
He's pleaded not guilty to all of the charges he faces, which include felon in possession of a firearm, first-degree theft, first-degree burglary and resisting arrest.
Police say after Officer Larry Wingfield, a 26-year veteran of the force, tried to apply a carotid hold on him, they were able to subdue Harris.
"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 or you submit to it and fade away from living. And I wasn’t willing to do that so you can call that resisting arrest.”
Wingfield was placed on paid administrative leave and under investigation because the carotid hold is considered deadly force.
"I'd want to see him fired," Harris said. "I want to see him released from duty.”
Grand juries previously cleared Wingfield of any wrongdoing in a deadly shooting in 2011 and another shooting in which a man survived in 2012.
Harris was previously convicted of attempted murder and robbery in Marion County in 2005. He spent a decade behind bars.
"Guy had a gun. He got sleeper-holded. So what?” Don DuPay, a former detective, told KATU.
DuPay, who worked for the Portland Police Bureau from 1961 to 1978, said he's "incensed" Wingfield was placed under investigation.
"I used the sleeper hold hundreds of times and no one ever died from it," DuPay said. "It's outrageous that the police department suspend a 26-year veteran for using the sleeper hold.”
Wingfield returned to duty on Sept. 17.
He and Portland police say they cannot comment on Harris's claims until the investigation is over.
KATU took a deeper look at DuPay's claims about the sleeper hold as well as why a local civil rights leader disagrees with him. That story can be read and viewed here.