Sonoma County sees widespread ban of carotid chokehold at local police departments

At least six Sonoma County police chiefs and Sheriff Mark Essick have banned the use of the carotid restraint.|

A surge of Sonoma County police chiefs have barred their officers from using a controversial chokehold that can be fatal if applied improperly, citing mounting public outcry and Gov. Gavin Newsom's order suspending training of the technique.

Police chiefs in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Cotati have all banned the use of the carotid hold, which requires officers to wrap an arm around a person's neck and apply pressure on both sides to slow the flow of blood through the carotid arteries, causing the person to lose consciousness.

When performed incorrectly, the maneuver has the potential to block a person's airway instead.

The local policy changes came as at least four Sonoma County mayors have signed a pledge calling for mayors across the country to reform their cities' police use-of-force policies in the wake of the national unrest over police violence and mistreatment of people of color. The effort is spearheaded by My Brother's Keeper Alliance, an initiative created by former President Barack Obama.

In signing the pledge, those mayors, who represent Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg and Sonoma, committed to review local use-of-force policies, engage their communities for input, report the findings of their review and eventually overhaul their use-of-force protocols.

In Sonoma, City Manager Cathy Capriola released a statement on Wednesday. "On Monday, June 8


, the Sheriff's Department informed us of a modification to their policy. The use of the carotid restraint is no longer authorized by the Sheriff's Office and therefore will not be used by the City of Sonoma Police Department."

Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, a former Santa Rosa police chief, said he has encouraged all Sonoma County mayors to sign the pledge. He anticipated most local leaders would sign and join him at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Santa Rosa to address use of force by police.

'We're united in this effort,' Schwedhelm said. 'It's much more powerful if you hear that every mayor is committed to this.'

Nearly all the local police chiefs said they viewed their removal of the hold as a permanent measure, though Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano said his agency was working with city leaders to conduct a review of the carotid hold before deciding whether to make the ban final.

'We're hearing about it at all different levels,' Savano said of concerns over the use of the carotid hold. 'I felt it was in the best interest for our officers and our community to suspend (the hold) for now.'

On Monday, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office confirmed they had banned the use of the carotid hold after the county's independent auditor, Karlene Navarro, announced the policy change in an email and social media post earlier that day. The policy change also applies to the Windsor and Sonoma police departments, which are staffed by Sheriff's Office personnel through contracts between each city and the sheriff's office.

The Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Cotati police departments followed with a ban of the carotid hold Tuesday morning, while the other agencies — Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg and Cloverdale — had started the process prior to Karlene Navarro's announcement.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro, who oversees the county's second largest patrol force, said he came to the decision after an exhaustive set of conversations with his staff and community members.

'I've had some sleepless nights; I had to think about it,' Chief Navarro said of banning the carotid hold. 'The concern is not having that option and going to another higher level of force. But with the training we receive right now, we're better equipped as officers and have other options available.'

The carotid hold has come under widespread public scrutiny in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year old man who was pronounced dead shortly after a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes during his arrest. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and faces a second-degree murder charge in Floyd's death.

While Chauvin did not place Floyd in a carotid hold, Floyd's death has incited anti-police brutality protests nationwide and renewed conversations about what types of force officers can utilize. A recent, popular police reform initiative called 8 Can't Wait, for example, calls on city police departments to ban the use of all neck holds, among other changes.

On Friday, Newsom directed the state's police training program to stop instructing officers on the restraint and urged law enforcement leaders in the state to restrict their officers from using the hold. Newsom said he also would back legislative efforts to make the carotid hold illegal for officers to use in the state, a proposal that has received support from key lawmakers.

Neither the Peace Officers Research Association of California nor the California State Sheriff's Association has taken a position on the proposed legislation.

Several of the local police chiefs emphasized that the use of the restraint was seldom used among their officers, a factor that made their decision to remove the neck restraint as an option for their officers easier to process.

Sebastopol's Acting Police Chief Gregory DeVore, who has worked for the agency for nearly 18 years, said he could only recall two instances in which the department's officers used the carotid hold on a person. He himself has avoided using the tactic altogether during his tenure at the agency.

'My personal opinion, the carotid is a very hard control hold to use to begin with,' DeVore said. 'I'm very leery about it because you are getting into the area of someone's throat. I would not see myself using it unless my life was in danger.'

Tim Mattos, the director of the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety, said he made the decision to pull the neck hold from the force options his officers can take to detain people on Sunday. He weighed comments from community members who opposed the use of the restraint, as well as notices from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which trains officers in California, about the governor's orders.

'When POST … comes out and says 'We're not going to approve any training for the carotid,' we're not going to fight that,' Mattos said. 'This is not a tool that we can't live without.'

In Healdsburg, the city's police officers were notified that the carotid hold was no longer allowed on Monday, Police Chief Kevin Burke said. Healdsburg Mayor Leah Gold signed the mayors pledge on June 5.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at or 707-521-5412.

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