Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Supervisors Want Chokehold Ban Codified

Sheriff's Office does not oppose a chokehold ban, but has reservations about self-defense prohibition.

By - Sep 17th, 2020 03:07 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Milwaukee County Board are attempting to codify a ban of chokeholds by county personnel, specifically, members of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

A resolution sponsored by Supervisors Tony Staskunas and Ryan Clancy requests that the Civil Service Commission amend the rules governing civil servants to include an explicit ban against all chokeholds or forms of asphyxia when engaging with a member of the public or attempting to make a lawful arrest.

The resolution also includes language that, if appended by the commission, would also explicitly require de-escalation techniques before any use of force.

The Sheriff is a constitutional officer in Wisconsin, so the county board does not have the authority to direct the sheriff’s office on policies like this.

Clancy said he was ashamed that the county board, in 2020, was working on a resolution “to finally stop this practice and to broadly compel county employees to attempt to de-escalate situations before using of force.” He said, “We’ve seen time and time again how the sheriff’s office escalates situations into violence without cause.”

Clancy also introduced an amendment that specifically banned carotid chokeholds, which involves applying pressure to the carotid artery in the neck, cutting of oxygen to the brain. The amendment also removed language that allowed law enforcement to use chokeholds or any form of asphyxia, even in self-defense or to protect the lives of others. He said he wrote it that way because he thought highly trained, armed sheriff’s deputies should be held to a higher standard than anyone else.

Ted Chisholm, chief of staff to Sheriff Earnell Lucas, told the board’s audit committee Wednesday that the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t train any form of chokehold or asphyxia. “If we do not train a tactic, it may not be used… except in an instance of self-defense or defense of others where no other trained technique is either practicable or all those techniques have been exhausted.” Chisholm also said the department’s use of force policy was amended in July to explicitly prohibit the use of chokeholds and all other asphyxia.

Sup. Sequanna Taylor, chair of the audit committee, said “this is just saying even if it’s not practice, it’s not policy. And a lot of times when it’s not policy it may be practice.”

Because the resolution matched department policy, Clancy asked Chisholm, “Are you then committing to, to discipline or potentially fire any deputy who uses those holds moving forward?”

“Respectfully, it would not be ethically appropriate for me to speak about hypothetical discipline in any case involving a member of our agency,” said Chisholm.

And while the Sheriff’s Office was not opposed to the resolution, he said the office was against the language in Clancy’s amendment that did not allow asphyxia in self-defense or to protect the lives of others. He said deputies should not be restricted from doing something that state law allows every resident to do.

Staskunas, who sponsored the original resolution, also did not support the prohibition in cases of self defense. Ultimately, he and Clancy drafted a second amendment, which stated sheriff’s deputies may use asphyxia to prevent imminent bodily harm or to protect the lives of others.

Clancy was not comfortable with the language of “self-defense”, saying he felt it was too general and could be applied too broadly to situations where there was not imminent bodily harm.

The committee unanimously passed the second amendment and then the resolution. It will next go before the full board.

Sup. Felesia Martin summed up the impetus for the resolution when she said it “tries to address an issue that we have, and we’ve seen recently.” And, she clarified, “This by any means does not say we don’t support law enforcement. I want it to be clear, on my part, that I do support law enforcement, I support good law enforcement.”

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One thought on “MKE County: Supervisors Want Chokehold Ban Codified”

  1. Mingus says:

    Finally some of our elected officials have the courage and commitment to do something about excessive police violence. All police and sheriff departments are run by local boards or city governments. These bodies have the ability to change police tactics which protect the public and still give the tools the police need for enforcing the laws. Every community should have their elected representatives review police policy concerning force. There are many departments that have sound policies and some who still refuse to look at practices that have been done for years in which the level of extreme force is uncalled for.

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