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New York’s highest court upholds police chokehold ban

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(The Center Square) — New York’s highest court has upheld a city law banning the use of chokeholds and other forms of restraint by law enforcement officers.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York and other police unions alleging that the rules on police restraint are too vague and compromised the safety of officers attempting to subdue dangerous suspects.

But the Court of Appeals said the New York City Council was acting within its lawmaking authority by enacting the ban.

“The language of the section also provides fair notice of the conduct prohibited and is sufficiently definite to avoid arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement and is therefore not void for vagueness,” the three-judge panel wrote in the 15-page ruling.

The law, which the New York City Council approved in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, forbids police from using chokeholds or sitting, kneeling or standing on a person’s torso, among other restrictions.

But the police unions sued the city, arguing that the rules are too vague regarding what officers can do during an arrest.

The appeals court ruling acknowledged that police officers “are called upon to respond to dangerous and volatile situations requiring real-time assessment of the level of force necessary to safeguard the public and ensure officer safety.”

But, the judges noted that the bar is high for law enforcement officers to be held criminally liable under the law. They said officers had to apply the banned force “voluntarily” and “not accidentally” to be charged with violating the law, and their actions “must fall outside the parameters of justifiable use of physical force.”

The Democratic-led City Council released a statement praising the ruling, saying it will “protect New Yorkers from being needlessly harmed by improper police restraints.”

“Now that litigation has concluded, we look forward to the continued enforcement of this law to keep New Yorkers safe,” the statement said.

To be sure, the New York Police Department has long prohibited officers from using chokeholds to subdue suspects. New York state also has a law banning police chokeholds, which was named after Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after an NYPD officer used a chokehold to subdue him.

John Nuthall, a spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, said while the outcome is disappointing, the ruling is still a “victory” by providing officers with more clarity about the restrictions on using force.

“Because under this court’s decision, it must be proven at a minimum that an officer’s action in fact ‘impedes the person’s ability to breathe,’ was ‘not accidental,’ and was not a ‘justifiable use of physical force,'” he said in a statement.

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