Sacramento law enforcement is under scrutiny following the rough arrest of two black teens at a light-rail station, which went viral Sunday night and drew comparisons to the videotaped choke-hold death of Eric Garner in New York.
On Sunday afternoon, two black male youths were arrested at the 29th Street light-rail station in Sacramento. According to Francine Tournour, director of the city of Sacramento’s Office of Public Safety & Accountability, which monitors the police and fire departments, the confrontation resulted after an inaccurate call to authorities.
Tournour said someone called in a report of a black male in a red shirt and red hat chasing a woman with a lead pipe at a light rail station located in the unincorporated county.
Light-rail security video from the Mather Field/Mills station in Rancho Cordova, where the boys boarded, show the one in red chasing his smaller friend with a stick. “If I didn’t know they were playing around,” Tournour said, she might have confused it for an attack as well.
Based on the faulty information, officers from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento Police Department coordinated to intercept the subject when the light rail-train stopped downtown. Tournour said the red-shirted youth initially complied with officers’ commands to come with them, but then stopped cooperating.
That’s when things took a turn. Tournour said the boy, who is around 220 pounds, began resisting and that’s when a sheriff’s deputy wrestled him to the ground.
According to officers’ accounts, Tournour said, the youth’s friend ran at them “aggressively,” shouting, “Hey, that’s my friend.” A city police officer took him to the ground.
The encounter was witnessed and photographed by activist Independence Taylor.
The 17-year-old Taylor happened to board the same light-rail train as the boys in Rancho Cordova. Seated in the next car, Taylor said he disembarked at the same time as the youths and watched officers confront them. Taylor wrote that the boys “just barely” got off the train when officers “engaged them and instigated them.”
Photos uploaded to Taylor’s Facebook wall show one Sacramento County deputy sheriff and one Sacramento Police Department officer physically overpowering and arresting the two youths on the concrete ramp at the 29th Street station.
The series of images begins with the sheriff’s deputy leaning against the back of a boy in a red t-shirt and black sweatpants; the deputy’s right forearm is crooked around the side of the youth’s neck. The next photo shows the same deputy standing with his right knee in the youth’s back. The deputy has the boy’s left arm pulled nearly 90 degrees behindhis back as he restrains the boy’s wrist.
Photos of the second boy, dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, begin with him lying on his stomach on the concrete ramp. The police officer is on top of him with his left forearm under the youth’s chin. In another photo, the boy grimaces as the two officers, now working together, pry his arms behind him with their knees pinning his upper back and backside.
By Tuesday, Taylor’s original post had garnered more than 1,000 likes and comments, and more than 2,000 shares.
Severalcommenters decried what they viewed as burly adult officers wrangling minors in the same type of choke-holds that were attributed to Garner’s death in Staten Island, New York. Tournour described the red-shirted teen as large, “but he’s still a kid.”
A local law enforcement officer who reviewed the images on background told SN&R the holds appeared to be legal “carotid restraint control” holds, not respiratory choke-holds.
According to a January 2014 article in Police: The Law Enforcement magazine, a respiratory neck restraint, or choke hold, puts pressure on the front of the neck,leading to asphyxiation. A vascular or carotid hold compresses arteries and jugular veins at the sides of the neck to reduce blood circulation in the cerebral cortex and lead to unconsciousness.
“If properly applied, the restrained subject should be free of unreasonable pressure to the front and rear of the neck, which might cause secondary injuries or death,” the article, “Reconsidering Carotid Control,” states. “Equally important is that the subject also retains the ability to breathe.
“A medical clearance should be obtained on the subject after the hold is applied,” the article adds.
Both the Police magazine and Carotid Restraint Training Institute in Riverside describe the hold’s purpose in corralling violent or psychotic individuals, like people who have consumed bath salts and “demonstrate a high tolerance for pain, exhibit superhuman strength and … fail to properly respond to police presence and verbal direction,” according to CRTI.
The sheriff’s department referred inquiries to the police department. Police spokesman Sgt. Doug Morse said there was no indication that a carotid hold or other use of force was used during the incident, “with the exception of physically struggling with the subjects.”
That certainly didn’t appear to be the case to Taylor, a vocal law enforcement critic who said he saw officers tackle the youths and put them in restrictive holds.
Police Lt. Norm Leong, who runs security for the regional transit system, said his office was looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
So is Tournour, who was alerted to the incident Monday morning when she saw herself tagged in a Facebook comment and thought, “Let me look at this immediately.” She said she called the police department at 7 a.m. to begin requesting information.
Tournour said sheriff’s deputies cited and released the red-shirted youth at juvenile hall on one charge of resisting arrest, while the police officers who took in the black-shirted kid released him to his parents’ custody without a charge.
Because of where the arrest occurred, light rail surveillance video didn’t capture the incident, Tournour said. She hoped someone recorded video of the encounter and would share it with her office.
She also said the red-shirted youth apologized to sheriff’s deputies for overreacting.
All photos from Independence Taylor’s Facebook page.