Bill limiting use of chokeholds clears Tennessee Senate

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A bipartisan bill limiting the use of chokeholds from police officers passed through Tennessee Senate this week with unanimous support. The purpose of the bill is to place more accountability on officers when it comes to the use of deadly force by chokehold.

“It’s important for us as a policymaking body to take a look at what we’re doing with law enforcement make certain that we’re not only giving them the tools but mandating what they do and how they interact,” said state Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol). “Obviously we want to keep law enforcement safe and the public safe but we also want to keep safe from those who they’re trying to subdue if you will.”

Along with banning chokeholds unless deadly force is authorized, the bill requires de-escalation training, duty to intervene, more detailed reporting, and bans no-knock warrants.

“There is the reporting because we want TBI and law enforcement to compile use of force incidents so that we can take a look at the end of the year and see what policies we need to enact to help deal with the situation,” said Lundberg.

The bill is slated to go to the Criminal Justice Committee next week.

“All those are general orders and that most accredited departments already have but evidently there’s a lot of departments across the state that don’t have that,” said state Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) who had a 36-year law enforcement career with the Kingsport Police Department.

Hulsey says he has never liked no-knock warrants and thinks more de-escalation training is a good idea.

“When you’re dealing with people who are unstable emotionally or have mental issues, there’s also a whole other brand of people that police deal with that are pilled up or doped up…I think it can help I really do,” Hulsey said.

The ideas stem from Gov. Bill Lee’s law enforcement reform partnership.

“With the BLM right now and the burning down cities, it’s made people say ‘OK what do we need to do or was it an appropriate response?’ So I think they’re here if they’re looking from that perspective,” Hulsey said. “I do think that the whole purpose of this with the governors is to get everybody on the same page.”

Local law enforcement agencies think the legislation is a good idea even though it won’t change much for their departments.

“There’s a lot of those things that we’ve been doing already based on standard operating procedures. A lot of it is some good practice,” said Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw. “[These are] really smart adjustments to incorporating those things we already had with some of the other things in Governor Lee’s executive order.”

Before becoming police chief, Shaw spent more than a decade on the SWAT team. He only recalled using a no-knock warrant once.

“It’s not something that occurs very often and there’s a lot of checks and things that occur with a search warrant as there should be so that ‘no-knock warrant’ was designed here that I’m familiar with anyway for something that is an extreme,” he said. “It’s really not something that we would do so much that would have a great operational effect I don’t think.”

Michael Crum is the assistant police chief for the Greeneville Police Department. He worked on this legislation with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

“We’re doing a good job of that through accreditation already but for the guys on the street I really don’t think it won’t change much for them at all,” Crum said. “Documentation of those processes are already going so far as use of force so if there’s a use of force that happens, any kind of use of force event, our officers fill out that form then it’s evaluated on multiple levels. No change on that whatsoever for us.”

Like Shaw, in his multi-decade career, Crum says his department doesn’t train to use chokeholds.

“When we talk about the chokehold that area specifically I can see Greeneville Police Department has not been done chokeholds absent deadly force circumstances for the 30 years I have been here,” said Crum. “I know most a lot of other Tennessee agencies especially the municipal agencies have not been using that either.”

News Channel 11 reached out to several law enforcement leaders and academies in the region, many were not interested in commenting on pending legislation.

At this time, we aren’t in a position to provide an opinion on the proposed legislation.

What we can tell you is that we work hard daily to protect the citizens of Sullivan County.  We regularly review our policies and are always looking for ways to improve.  If residents have concerns about our policies and procedures, we encourage them to reach out to us with their questions.

Capt. Andy Seabolt, Public Information Officer for the Sullivan Co. Sheriff’s Office

A spokesperson for the Walters State Community College Law Enforcement academy said “chokeholds are not included in use-of-force training” in their program.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee also released a statement to News Channel 11 in regards to the legislation.

“During the course of Derek Chauvin’s trial, more than three people a day died at the hands of law enforcement, including Anthony Thompson Jr. in Knoxville. Clearly, transformational changes are needed in our approach to public safety. This important bill would implement common-sense best practices that are already in place in a number of police departments in the United States. We know these practices work – research shows that officers at agencies with stricter use-of-force policies have fewer incidents of fatal police shootings and are also less likely to be killed or seriously injured themselves. This legislation is an important first step toward reducing the number of violent, fatal interactions between police and community members – particularly people of color, who are so often the targets of police abuse.”

Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU Tennessee

The bill is expected to pass through the House sometime next week then go to Gov. Bill Lee to sign.

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