San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said: "Hate has no place in this country, no place in the City of San Diego or the County of San Diego and with all us working together, I know we can eradicate hate.”
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit in 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

Amid anti-police protests locally and nationwide, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit on Monday announced an immediate ban on the controversial carotid restraint — a chokehold that critics have denounced for years.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer led a procession of city officials and community activists in hailing what they called a “historical moment” and a new chapter in police-community relations.

In the wake of the apparent choking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Nisleit said the ban on the chokehold would help avoid fatal encounters.

Some 47 local elected officials in San Diego County signed letter calling for "systemic change."
Some 47 local elected officials in San Diego County signed letter calling for “systemic change.” (PDF)

“I hear the community loud and clear,” Nisleit said. “We’ve had these discussions over the last years. … We know the carotid restraint makes people very angry.”

City Council President Georgette Gómez called the move a “bold step toward community policing,” and Councilwoman Monica Montgomery said community calls for change must be met with “good-faith action of elected officials.”

But Nisleit said he wouldn’t tolerate unlawful behavior as seen over the previous night. He said curfews are a “tool” that would be used as needed, but didn’t announce one for Monday night.

Mayor Faulconer said: “We are watching the hurt and pain so many people are expressing after the tragic death of George Floyd and are committed to taking new actions to make sure something like this doesn’t happen in San Diego.

“That starts today with the police chief’s decision to immediately stop this particular restraint that has led to so much concern and frustration by many in our minority communities.”

Floyd died last Monday after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly stated he could not breathe. He died from asphyxia, according to the Hennepin County coroner’s report. His cause of death is consistent with restriction of airflow, not blood flow like the carotid restraint banned Monday.

“I started evaluating this policy last week following the terrible events in Minneapolis and believe now is the right time to make this change,” Nisleit said. “Effective immediately, I have placed a stop on the use of the carotid restraint among our police department. I have heard from the community, and the department wants to work toward strengthening our community partnerships to keep all San Diegans safe.”

With protests occurring in San Diego and across the country after Floyd’s death, Faulconer has directed three city advisory bodies to hold emergency meetings this week to discuss with residents strengthening community-police relations and updating the SDPD’s de-escalation policies.

The Community Review Board on Police Practices, the Citizens Advisory Board on Police/Community Relations and the Human Relations Commission will also hold public meetings to seek community input on proposed changes.

“The city of San Diego is taking a critical step today by banning the use of the carotid restraint,” Gomez said. “As we’ve seen, it is deadly and it is unnecessary. I’m grateful to all San Diegans who are peacefully expressing their frustration and anger. I will always work with you to hold all our institutions accountable.”

Montgomery, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, agreed with the move.

“I am thrilled with this tangible action taken by Mayor Faulconer and Chief Nisleit to ban the use of the carotid restraint,” she said. “The in- custody death of George Floyd, (which) has sparked nationwide outrage and protest, has further underscored the need for accountability and transparency measures.”

Former San Diego mayor and police chief Jerry Sanders said the move was needed for multiple reasons.

“The decision to change this policy is the right one, and yet, we recognize it is but one component of what is needed to fully address this issue,” Sanders said. “What it does right now is remove a flashpoint to police interaction with citizens and, very importantly, it starts the road to discussing meaningful change in police and community relations.”

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher followed by calling on the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to change its own chokehold policy.

“Today I am asking Sheriff Bill Gore to align policies around carotid restraint to be consistent with the San Diego Police Department and make clear that the chokehold technique is not an allowable practice,” he said in a statement.

“I commend San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery and Council President Georgette Gómez for their leadership in driving this policy change. The inequities we see across communities are real. The impact this is having on our communities of color are real.”

Fletcher cited a May 2019 analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune that found the San Diego Police Department used the carotid restraint in 574 cases between 2013 and 2018; and it was used by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department 474 times during the same period.

“California Department of Justice data from 2018 shows that people of color were two times more likely to be put into chokehold restraints than white folks across the nation,” a Fletcher news release said.

Monday evening, a 450-word letter signed by nearly four dozen city and school elected officials throughout San Diego County said “deep rooted systemic problems in our society, including law enforcement, must be addressed.”

Four local mayors — Catherine Blakespear of Encinitas, Serge Dedina of Imperial Beach, Paul McNamara of Escondido and Racquel Vasquez of Lemon Grove — said they stood in solidarity with their black communities.

“Daily events such as the deaths of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Arbery need to be reviewed with full transparency and must not be normalized,” they said.

San Diego City Council signatories were Gómez, Montgomery, Vivian Moreno, Chris Ward and Jen Campbell.

“If we are in this space, we must do more than we are currently doing. We must be better allies,” the letter said. “We must create and fight for systemic change.”

Also signing the letter were council members (but not the entire councils) from Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Lemon Grove, Solana Beach, Vista and school board members from Carlsbad Unified, Chula Vista Elementary, Encinitas Union, Oceanside Unified, San Marcos Unified, South Bay Union, Southwestern College and Vista Unified.

Carlsbad Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel said she collaborated in writing the letter with Imperial Beach Councilwoman Paloma Aguirre, Encinitas Councilwoman Kellie Hinze, Vista Councilwoman Corinna Contreras and Escondido Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez.

She told Times of San Diego that a few independents but no Republicans signed the letter.

“All signatories were collected and signed [Monday],” Bhat-Patel said via email. “It took less than a day to put this together. We will urge more of our colleagues to sign on.”

A news release on the letter said the “legitimacy of law enforcement is challenged when applied unevenly allowing persistent racism to deny accountable and equal protection under the law. Explicit improvements are required to establish trust and earn the confidence required to achieve peace.”

Later, Gómez — a Democrat running for Congress in Rep. Susan Davis’ 53rd District — issued a release calling for supporters to “sign my petition calling on Congress to implement a nationwide ban on carotid restraint.”

She also issued a statement on what she labeled President Trump’s “incendiary remarks” earlier Monday in which he said: “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Said Gómez: “At a time when we desperately need unity and peace, Donald Trump continues to incite, escalate and divide. Instead of bringing cities together around justice and dignity for all, Trump’s dangerous threats of military action against communities only further divide cities across America, including San Diego.

“In San Diego, we’re going in a different direction.”

Updated at 8:44 p.m. June 1, 2020

— City News Service contributed to this report.