By Jennifer Antonik
Chokeholds could soon become a restraining technique of the past for law enforcement officers in Delaware.
Not only did Gov. John Carney sign an executive order Thursday banning state-level police from using it, but a bill making its way through the General Assembly would make it a crime for anyone to use one.
A national focus on the use of chokeholds stems from national outrage over the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis. He died after a policeman kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes even as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s May 25 death started a wave of protests across the country focused on racism and police brutality.
Carney’s executive order bans officers within Delaware’s Executive Branch from “knowingly or intentionally” using a “chokehold, kneehold or other similar acts of applying force or pressure against the trachea, windpipe, carotid artery, side of the neck, or jugular vein of another person unless that officer believes that the use of such force is necessary to protect the life of a civilian or a law enforcement officer and other applicable control methods have been exhausted.”
This order is limited to officers serving state-level agencies, including the Delaware State Police, Capitol Police, Department of Correction, Natural Resources Police and Delaware Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, the release said.
A full list of state agencies in Delaware can be found online at https://alpha.delaware.gov/state-directory.
Municipality-based police departments are not included in his order. However, Carney said that he encouraged “all law enforcement agencies throughout the state to use this Executive Order as a guide to foster community collaboration between all law enforcement agencies and the citizens they serve.”
The order also requires affected agencies to post use of force policies and protocols publicly on their websites, increase community engagement, continue participation in the National Use of Force Data Collection effort, train officers in implicit bias and de-escalation and increase crisis intervention services.
Carney mandated that photos or mugshots of children 17 years of age or younger not be released to the public unless the child is charged with a violent felony and the release of said photo is for public safety purposes.
“Talk is cheap. It’s on us to make progress,” Carney said in a press release. “As I said last week, these are first steps that we can take administratively to improve the relationship between law enforcement agencies and communities of color in Delaware.”
He acknowledged that the legislature was working on the issue, and thanks Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr. and the Delaware State Police for leadership on the issue.
“I know law enforcement in Delaware,” Carney said in the release. “The vast majority of officers here and across our country serve for the right reasons – to protect and strengthen their communities. They want meaningful change. Let’s keep working together to move forward.”
Last week, Delaware Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington) introduced HB 350, which would create the crime of aggravated strangulation within Delaware Code for all law enforcement officers within the state.
If passed by Delaware legislators, aggravated strangulation, or whenever a law-enforcement officer intentionally uses a chokehold on another person while acting in their official role, would become a Class D felony. It would escalate to a Class C felony if the person becomes seriously injured or dies from the incident. The synopsis of the bill clarifies that the chokehold may only be warranted if such deadly force is needed “to protect the life of a civilian or law-enforcement officer.”
HB 350 unanimously passed the House Thursday, June 25 and will be sent to the Senate.