It's been listed as the cause of death by medical examiners and been the
subject of wrongful-death lawsuits around the country.
But hogtying a suspect, experts now say, can't kill.
A San Diego federal judge has dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by
the survivors of a Poway man who died after being hogtied by sheriff's
deputies in 1994.
The decision last week was based largely on new evidence developed at the
request of a lawyer for San Diego County.
Its impact could be widespread.
During a recent nonjury trial, a medical expert who first suggested nearly
a decade ago that hogtying suspects can lead to death retracted his beliefs
on the stand after being confronted with the findings of a new study.
Dr. Donald T. Reay, the chief medical examiner for King County, Wash., had
maintained for years that blood oxygen levels decrease after someone has
been exercising (as in a violent struggle with deputies). He had maintained
that the hogtie restraint prevents such oxygen levels from rising again
because the restraint impairs the mechanical process of inhaling and
exhaling. His findings, authorities say, have been reiterated and accepted
as gospel by other experts across the country for years.
The result: Numerous civil lawsuits have been pursued across the country,
including one settled last year in Los Angeles for $750,000.
"It's astounding how it has become so popular when it is so incorrect,"
Deputy San Diego County Counsel Ricky R. Sanchez said yesterday.
Hogtying is a type of restraint used by police to control the most
combative and violent subjects. It involves binding a subject's hands and
feet together behind his back.
The local lawsuit was filed by family members of Daniel L. Price against
the county of San Diego.
In preparing for the trial, Sanchez asked Dr. Thomas Neuman, professor of
medicine at the UCSD Medical Center, to conduct a study of positional
asphyxia and the hogtie restraint.
Neuman's conclusions, which Reay later agreed were valid, were that blood
oxygen levels do not decrease after exercise. He also found that although
the hogtie restraint impairs the mechanical process of inhaling and
exhaling to some extent, being hogtied does not affect blood oxygen or
carbon dioxide levels.
"In other words," federal Judge John S. Rhodes wrote in his decision, "the
impairment is so minor that it does not lead to asphyxia, and in fact has
no practical significance. . . . The UCSD study, which Dr. Reay concedes
rests on exemplary methodology, eviscerates Dr. Reay's conclusions. . . .
After Dr. Reay's retraction, little evidence is left that suggests that the
hogtie restraint can cause asphyxia."
Sanchez said that after learning of Rhodes' decision Monday afternoon, he
spent most of the past day and a half on the telephone with lawyers for
municipalities around the country who are battling similar lawsuits.
"It spans the nation," Sanchez said. "Chicago, Michigan, Washington state,
New Mexico, Pennsylvania. I've had inquiries from any number of agencies
where this fellow's hypotheses are being utilized to attack officers'
The trial here dealt with the death of Price, 35, who on June 28, 1994, got
into a brawl with two deputies and was brought to the pavement and bound by
the feet and hands. His limbs were then brought together with a second pair
of handcuffs so that he was belly-down on the pavement, his arms and legs
manacled behind him.
His heart stopped beating while he lay on the pavement. Although paramedics
were able to restart his heart in the ambulance, he never regained
consciousness and died two days later in a hospital.
According to Rhodes' decision, Price had been a longtime methamphetamine
user, and that, more than anything else, caused his death.
"Methamphetamine has devoured another of its victims, and forever
transformed the lives of his family members," the judge wrote.
Sanchez said it was the first lawsuit filed in the county over a hogtying
"When I first was assigned the case the medical examiner had said the cause
of (Price's) death was asphyxia due to hogtying induced by police
officers," he said. "My question at that time was what information were
they relying on?"
Sanchez traveled to an international medical examiners' conference to
listen to Reay talk and later, in 1996, took Reay's deposition in Seattle.
"He told me he had never before been confronted with these issues."
Sanchez then met Neuman, who agreed to do a study.
"I'm really pleased that the county of San Diego paused to ask whether or
not this was true and had the faith in me to do so," Sanchez said.
Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
From CHAS: In early 1998, the above article was Emailed to me by several persons. Obviously, I was concerned and alarmed by this article's statements!
First, I contacted Dr. Reay and requested his explanation of Jones' reported information. Was it true? Had Dr. Reay "retracted" his findings in spite of his years of positional asphyxia experience and research?!
NO! He Hadn't!
See Hog-Tied Revisited
Dr. Donald T. Reay (Seattle, Washington, King County Chief Medical Examiner)
responds to accusations that he has "Retracted" his Research!
After being reassured by Dr. Reay, I wrote an opinion paper
about this San Diego Union-Tribune article.
Dangerous Misinformation Published
This material originally posted on my Web Site July 1st, 1998.
Soon after that, I discovered a very dangerous "News Release" spawned by the misinformation-laden San Diego Union Tribune article.
An Example of what Dangerous Misinformation Can Do!
This material originally posted on my Web Site July 21st, 1999.
Updated on April 13th, 2001.