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Did use of a fatal chokehold by police violate an individual’s civil rights?

Case Background:

In 2016, Humberto Martinez was pulled over by Pittsburg, California police officers for a minor traffic violation. He made the unfortunate decision to flee the scene and was apprehended by the police in a nearby home. During a brief struggle to detain him, an officer restrained Martinez’s by putting him in a carotid choke hold for 50 seconds.

The officer who placed Martinez in the carotid hold later told his colleagues that Martinez was trying to bite, punch, and head butt him during the struggle.

Martinez died in a hospital later that day as a result of injuries caused by restraint asphyxia. An autopsy found the officer cut off Martinez’s breathing and fractured cartilage in his throat, causing. The autopsy also found methamphetamine in Martinez’s body that the pathologist testified may have played a role in his death.

Test Your Civil Rights Knowledge:

Did an officer’s use of a carotid chokehold violate the law?

A. No. Martinez was resisting arrest and the pathology report showed he had illegal drugs in his system.
B. Yes. The officer exceeded his lawful authority in the use of excessive physical force.
C. No. At the time of the incident these types of physical restraints were not illegal in California.
D. Yes. Instead of placing Martinez in a chokehold, the officer should have used a taser or baton.

Answer: B

In Martinez v. City of Pittsburg, 809 Fed Appx. 439 (9th Cir. 2020), the legal team at Haddad & Sherwin, LLP, demonstrated that a Pittsburg police officer abused his lawful authority in the use of excessive physical force by placing Martinez in an improper carotid chokehold. Haddad & Sherwin were instrumental in helping the Martinez’s family secure a $7.3 million settlement from the city of Pittsburg, California.
“These officers took Beto Martinez’s life for a simple misdemeanor,” said attorney Michael Haddad. “They continued to beat and choke him even when he can be heard on their videos saying, ‘I can’t breathe!’”

When law enforcement officers overstep their legal authority by taking illegal or inappropriate actions that involve violations of state or federal law, civil rights, and police department rules and standards it falls into the category of police misconduct.

In addition to the compensation, Haddad & Sherwin negotiated an agreement with the Pittsburg Police Department on the following reforms:

– New policies and training concerning risks of prone restraint and how to avoid restraint deaths and restraint/compression asphyxia
– New policies and training prohibiting the use of carotid holds, choke hold, neck holds and lateral vascular neck restraints.
– Changing the PPD policy defining deadly force from “force reasonably anticipated and intended to create a substantial likelihood of causing death or serious injury” to the correct standard, “force that creates a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury” as defined in Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F.3d 689, 706 (9th 2005).