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Justice Department restricts use of chokeholds, no-knock entries by federal law enforcement

Officers, medics indicted in Elijah McClain's death
Officers and medics indicted in Elijah McClain's 2019 death 01:48

Washington — The Justice Department said Tuesday it would be imposing strict limitations on when federal law enforcement officers can use chokeholds and "no-knock" entries, the latest in a series of steps undertaken by the Biden administration to bolster law enforcement accountability.

Under the new policies, federal law enforcement components are prohibited from using chokeholds and "carotid restraints" unless deadly force is authorized, which is considered when an officer has a "reasonable belief" they or another person face imminent danger of death or serious injury. 

The department is also placing new limits on the use of "no-knock" entries with the execution of warrants. Under the policy, such entries can only be used when an agent believes there is a threat to physical safety. In those circumstances, the agent must receive approval from a federal prosecutor and his or her law enforcement component. 

If an agent does not anticipate the need for a no-knock entry when the warrant was sought, they can conduct such an entry only if "exigent circumstances arise at the scene" that would put the agent or another person at risk. In those cases, the officer must "immediately" notify his or her supervisor and provide written notice to federal prosecutors. 

"Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "The limitations implemented today on the use of 'chokeholds,' 'carotid restraints' and 'no-knock' warrants, combined with our recent expansion of body-worn cameras to DOJ's federal agents, are among the important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability."

The new restrictions for federal law enforcement are the result of a review conducted by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. In a four-page memo to the Justice Department's entities, Monaco said the department determined it "did not have consistent written policies across its law enforcement components" on the use of chokeholds or on no-knock entries when executing warrants. 

Monaco recognized that in many instances, the use of chokeholds, which restrict an individual's ability to breath, and carotid restraints, which restrict blood flow to the brain, "has too often led to tragedy."

Many law enforcement agencies have been reevaluating physical restraint techniques, as well as no-knock warrants, following the deaths of unarmed Black men and women, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, by law enforcement in the last few years.

In the case of Floyd, whose death sparked a nationwide movement for police reforms, a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd lay prone on the sidewalk struggling to breath. The city of Minneapolis said in June it would ban the use of chokeholds by police officers in the city.

Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky, police last year during a botched raid on her apartment. The night she was killed, Taylor's boyfriend said he believed officers were intruders when they entered her apartment. He fired his gun at the group, and police began shooting back, striking Taylor several times. In the wake of her death, Kentucky enacted legislation restricting the use of no-knock warrants. 

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also been negotiating a police reform bill that would address chokeholds and no-knock warrants, though the bipartisan group has been unable to reach consensus on a proposal thus far.

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