Sonoma Sheriff Bans Controversial Neck Hold Amid Countrywide Protests

Sheriff resisted previous calls to stop use of Carotid Restraint

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office will no longer allow officers to use carotid holds, according to a statement released on the agency’s Facebook page on Friday.

The statement, signed by Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, comes after the agency received a “flurry of emails” about the Sonoma Sheriff’s grade on, a newly-formed website that reports whether or not an agency has enacted any of eight recommended safety policies.

“There are several significant errors in their reporting,” Essick wrote of the 8cantwait’s report, pushing back on five points.

First, Essick singled out whether or not the Sheriff’s Office has a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds.

“These holds are not allowed,” Essick wrote on Friday, June 5.

Indeed, a note on the Sheriff’s Policies and Training web page states that “Effective June 5, 2020 the carotid hold is no longer authorized. Policies and training are being updated accordingly and will be posted as soon as they are available.”

That may be true now. But, in the case of the carotid hold, it’s a very recent development and a reversal of Essick’s previous decision.

In implementing the carotid hold properly, an officer places the subject’s neck in the crook of their elbow, applying pressure on the subject’s carotid arteries which run parallel to the windpipe. Because the technique restricts blood flow to the head – the carotid arteries supply between 70-80 percent of blood flow to the brain, according to a California law enforcement training manual – the subject falls unconscious quickly.

But the 2005 training manual also states that “The carotid restraint control hold should not be confused with the bar-arm choke hold or any other form of choke hold where pressure is applied to restrict the flow of air into the body by compression of the airway at the front of the throat.”

Because of the risk of death or serious injury associated with improper use of the carotid hold have led to discussion about its use should still be allowed.

Last December, Essick turned down a long list of Use Of Force policy recommendations prepared by the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) Community Advisory Committee, a group of volunteers who spend their evenings studying law enforcement policies and interfacing with the community.

(The recommendations are no longer available on IOLERO’s website but the Bohemian has uploaded them here. The Sheriff’s Response to the recommendations is available here.)





Among 20 Guiding Principles recommended by the CAC was this: “Carotid restraints and other dangerous chokeholds and maximum restraints are banned.”

In its response, the Sheriff’s Office stated that “In order to truly consider this recommendation, we would need to see data that supports the assumption the carotid restraint and maximum restraint are unreasonably dangerous when applied appropriately.”

“We would also need to have a list of alternatives to these options to deal with combative individuals. Without them the deputies will be restricted to the use of other, potentially more dangerous, uses of force,” the Sheriff’s response continued.

Although the CAC had been working on the recommendations for well over a year, the carotid hold had sparked renewed outrage at the Sheriff’s Office just a week before the CAC formally issued their recommendations to the Sheriff.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 27, officers from the Sheriff’s Office and Sebastopol Police Department stopped a car which had been reported stolen near Sebastopol.

David Ward, the driver and owner of the car, had led officers on a car chase. But, body camera video of the incident shows, that officers did not de-escalate the situation.

Instead, after Ward did not exit his car, Sheriff’s deputy Charles Blount slammed Ward’s head into the car doorframe, Tasered Ward, attempted a carotid hold from an awkward angle and later tried to pull Ward through the car window.

While they were still on the scene, the officers discovered that the man in the car was in fact Ward, not a car thief.

“Oh well,” Blount can be heard saying when he learns who the man lying on the ground is, according to a body camera video of the incident. [TK – CHECK TAPE.]

On Dec. 5, KQED reported that Blount had a history of using the carotid hold—and then lying about it in court.

In May, the Marin County coroner declared Ward’s death a homicide, the result of “Cardiorespiratory Collapse, Blunt Impact Injuries, Neck Restraint and Application of Conducted Energy Device.”

According to data released by the Sheriff’s Office in response to California Public Records Act request, the Sheriff’s Office used two carotid restraints per year between 2015 and 2018, for a total of eight.

Of course, considering that Blount lied about using a carotid restraint in court, it’s not clear whether the data released is entirely accurate.

[LINK: Response_Letter_7-1-19.PDF