An Excerpt From
This excerpt is from the "POLICY REVIEW" Newsletter
Published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police
National Law Enforcement Policy Center
Volume 10, Number 1; Spring, 1998.
Recently, there has been some controversy regarding the positional asphyxia problem. This controversy is unfortunate, because it may induce some police personnel and their agencies to overlook established practice based on prior research and threat presented by use of the four-point restraint. The most recent example of this controversy occurred in a case tried in a federal district court in southern California and decided in January, 1998. In that case, Ann Price v. County of San Diego, a federal judge, relying upon a recent study at the University of California at San Diego, concluded that "the hog-tie restraint in and of itself does not constitute excessive force." Unfortunately, this decision is being hailed by some as a blanket judicial approval of this restraint procedure.
This far-reaching interpretation of the case does not seem to be justified. In the first place, the decision was very limited in its scope, and was expressly stated by the court to apply only to the Price case. Secondly, it is not clear that the academic study upon which the court apparently based its conclusion is applicable under the real-world conditions encountered by police on the street. The University of San Diego study, as described in an article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, involved 15 healthy young volunteers who were hog-tied after several minutes of exercise on stationary bicycles. As reported by the Los Angeles Daily Journal, "no one died, and the volunteers' ability to breathe did not change."(7) The difference between the conditions of this experiment and the conditions under which such restraint occurs in the field are readily apparent. Further, the earlier Reay Study related the positional asphyxia deaths not merely to the method of restraint or the degree of exertion occurring before or during the restraint, but also to the physical condition of the prisoners (overweight, large stomachs), and the presence of drug or alcohol intoxication. So far as is known, the volunteers in the University of San Diego study were young, healthy, and not intoxicated. Why the court in Price v. San Diego rejected Dr. Reay's findings and accepted the University of San Diego study as conclusive evidence is not known.