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DOJ Limits Chokeholds, No-Knock Warrants

(Photo by Demetrius Freeman-Pool/Getty Images)

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that federal law enforcement officers will be prohibited in most instances from using chokeholds and performing “no-knock” warrants.

“Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department,” Attorney General Merrick B. 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.”

Under the policy, federal agents are prohibited from using “chokeholds” and “carotid restraints,” a technique that restricts blood flow to the brain by applying pressure to both sides of the neck, “unless deadly force is authorized” and when the officer “has a reasonable belief” the subject of the force “poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

The policy also limits the use of “no-knock” warrants to cases only in which an agent believes that his physical safety is at risk. Even then, an agent must get approval from a supervisor and federal prosecutor before executing the warrant, according to the DOJ.

There is also another exception in which even if an agent doesn’t believe there is an imminent threat to physical safety, they may still execute the “no-knock” warrant so long as they get approval from the head of “the law enforcement component and the U.S. Attorney” before seeking judicial authorization.

The policy shifts come more than a year after two high-profile cases spurred calls to ban both “no-knock” warrants and chokeholds.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in April after he knelt on George Floyd’s neck in May of 2020 for nearly nine minutes. Almost immediately following Floyd’s death, the city of Minneapolis made a deal with the state banning police chokeholds and forcing officers to report and intervene anytime an officer uses unauthorized force.

Kentucky EMT Breonna Taylor was killed in March of 2020 when Louisville officers entered her home after obtaining and executing a no-knock warrant. (RELATED: Breonna Taylor’s Family Files New Lawsuit Alleging Police Withheld Bodycam Footage)

The warrant was originally approved because it was a drug investigation. Responding officers claimed they knocked and announced their presence before entering Taylor’s apartment. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he fired at officers because he thought someone was breaking into the apartment. Officers returned fire, killing Taylor in the process. The warrant was later found to be incorrect.

Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul introduced the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act following her death,  which would implement a near-total ban on “no-knock” warrants, which allow police to raid homes without notifying the occupants.

The city of Louisville also changed its protocol to ban the use of the warrants unless they received approval from a judge beforehand. In April, Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed a law partially banning “no-knock” warrants, only permitting them if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the crime in question “would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender.”