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22 Californians Have Died After Being Held Face Down by Police

A new review of law enforcement data shows that, despite growing awareness of the dangers of prone restraint, in California the problem is pervasive. Under a 2015 law, California began tracking data about when people died after police use of force. Between 2016 and 2022, at least 22 people died after being restrained stomach-down by law enforcement officers, according to a new analysis of state use-of-force data by the California Reporting Project, the California Newsroom and the Guardian. Of the key findings:19 of the 22 people who died following prone restraint tested positive for meth. All 22 cases involve people in crisis – either struggling with addiction, mental illness or otherwise behaving erratically. “We really shouldn’t have any of these deaths,” said Seth Stoughton, a former Tallahassee, Fla., police officer who teaches criminal law and procedure at the University of South Carolina. “Any time there’s prolonged prone restraint, something’s going wrong. It should not happen.”


“It’s deeply concerning to learn about the deaths of individuals in California due to positional asphyxia, even after it was banned by AB 490,” said California assemblymember Mike Gipson, the primary author of the bill. “These incidents underscore the urgent need for comprehensive training and accountability measures within law enforcement agencies." AB 490, bans any maneuvers that put people at risk of being unable to breathe due to the position of their body, or positional asphyxia. Stoughton said prone restraint, is so easy to perform safely that it should never lead to deaths, no matter who’s being restrained. Stoughton said that if officers take the proper precautions to manage the scene and protect themselves, someone in handcuffs on their side is not a great danger, “If there is any increase in risk at all [to officers] it is so marginal that it is vastly outweighed by the potential of saving that person’s life.” In addition to training officers to use the recovery position as a matter of routine, experts say officers can keep an eye out for warning signs when restraining people prone. Dr Daniel Wohlgelernter, a cardiologist who has also testified in prone restraint cases said officers should watch for changes in alertness, speech or physical movements.

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