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This was George Floyd’s plea last night to Minneapolis Police Officers as they held him face down, with one knee on his torso and one knee on his neck.  News reports show the officers held Mr. Floyd down for over eight minutes, keeping an officer’s knee pressing on his torso and another knee pressing on his neck until long after he became unresponsive due to hypoxia, a deadly lack of oxygen.

Mr. Floyd was unarmed, was already handcuffed behind his back, and was no threat whatsoever to the officers.  There was no reason to restrain him.  And restraining him face down, and putting weight not only on his back but also on his neck, asphyxiated him.

Law enforcement officers around the country have been trained for decades about the dangers of restraint asphyxia – placing a person in a prone position with weight on him.  Putting weight on the victim’s back prohibits his diaphragms from expanding and getting air into his lungs, denying him the oxygen all of us need every single second of every day.  And it kills very quickly.

Unfortunately, restraint asphyxia at the hands of law enforcement occurs all too often around the country.  The experienced civil rights attorneys at Haddad & Sherwin LLP have handled several cases involving restraint asphyxia.  We are currently representing the young children of Humberto Martinez, who was asphyxiated and choked to death by Pittsburg, California, police, also while he told them, “I can’t breathe.”

The one difference in Mr. Floyd’s case is that the Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey quickly took the appropriate step of terminating the employment of the four officers involved in killing George Floyd.  That almost never happens.  What remains to be seen is whether the District Attorney or the United States Attorney’s office have the courage to file criminal charges against these officers.  That also almost never happens.

As a practical matter, the only people who hold law enforcement accountable when they violate the constitution and kill people like George Floyd are the family members of the victims with their civil rights attorneys.  I wish Mr. Floyd’s family as much peace as possible during this horrific nightmare.  George Floyd should not have died.  These officers must be held accountable not only in the criminal courts, but in civil court as well.

Julia Sherwin, 05/26/2020

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