Analysis: Public denied answers as Culver City settles excessive force suit out of court.
Further information on CCPD’s carotid hold policies and procedures would be instructive for “community conversation”
Last Friday, Culver City filed papers in federal court seeking to dismiss an excessive force lawsuit targeting the city, the Culver City Police Department (CCPD), Chief of Police Scott Bixby, and several other CCPD officers.
The suit, which shined a brief spotlight on the CCPD and its use-of-force procedures, settled out of court for a $200,000 payout from the city, said attorney Cameron Sehat, who represented the plaintiff.
To review the case’s bare bones: in Feb 2017, CCPD officers James Gladden and Michael Kutylo stopped Los Angeles resident Terry Walton for having dealer plates. The officers, later citing a concern Walton was intoxicated, asked him to exit his vehicle.
A struggle ensued when Kutylo attempted to handcuff Walton. Dashcam footage of the incident shows Gladden mounting Walton’s back and restraining his neck. In the video, the trio falls to the ground, allowing Kutylo to straddle and punch Walton as his partner continues the neck restraint, which the city and the suit agree was a carotid hold.
That hold – which aims to restrict blood flow to the brain – continued for at least two minutes, a dangerous length of time for brain cells to be without oxygen. According to a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “brain cells are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation and can begin to die within five minutes” when blood flow is cut off.
The city, in response to a public records request by WarrenSz.me, released the footage on April 19, suggesting it “presents an opportunity for community conversation on use of force.” But because the matter was ultimately handled privately and attorneys on both sides declined to comment, Culver City residents will be deprived of answers to several questions that would be germane to such a conversation. Let’s look at a few.
Why was Terry Walton ordered to exit his car?
The city’s story conflicts with the lawsuit’s account as to why officers felt Walton needed to get out of his vehicle.
Walton’s lawsuit alleges he was treated with suspicious hostility “due to his size and race.” Culver City, in their April 19 press release, claimed officers believed Walton was intoxicated at the time of the stop.
Prosecutors eventually tacked an indictment for being under the influence of a controlled substance onto separate charges for driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest. Walton was acquitted of the drug charge, convicted of the license violation, and produced a hung jury on the question of resisting arrest. He was eventually sentenced to 180 days in jail with 44 days credit for time served.
Since no transcript or recording of the conversation between Walton and officers Kutylo and Gladden exists, there’s more to learn from their testimony in Walton’s criminal trial. What about the his demeanor suggested he was intoxicated? Was it defensive? Hostile? Substantially different from how an average Culver City resident would react to being pulled over while stopped at a red light?
How severe are the enduring symptoms experienced by Terry Walton?
The lawsuit alleges Walton suffered, among other symptoms, deteriorating eyesight and memory loss due to his interaction with CCPD. To inflict lasting consequences from what should have been a routine ticket at worst – remember, he was pulled over for paper plates on a minivan – is troubling.
Police typically consider the carotid hold a safe way to subdue subjects and suspects. Former LAPD Chief of Police Darryl Gates called it a “super hold” when defending the practice to critics over 30 years ago.
“It’s insane to suggest we cannot use that,” he was quoted as saying.
But the reality is damage happens relatively quickly to a brain without oxygen.
Just ask the family of James Mincey, Jr., a 20-year-old Pacoima resident who died due to an LAPD chokehold performed after Mincey was already in custody, just steps from his mother’s front door.
According to the LA Times, Los Angeles police had attempted to stop Mincey for a cracked windshield just minutes after he had been cited for speeding in a separate interaction with LAPD. He refused to pull over – two weeks later, he died in the hospital.
All this is to say: the stakes are high when it comes to carotid chokes.
How are CCPD officers trained to perform the carotid hold? How often do they use it?
Citing an assortment of privileges carved out of California’s public records request law, the city refused to produce documentation of Gladden’s training in the use carotid holds or give the number of carotid holds performed by CCPD over the past several years. The department’s manual claims the maneuvers can only be performed by specially trained officers and must be documented when used.
It presents obvious problems if Gladden executed the hold without proper training. But assuming he was trained – do officers learn the signs of impending brain injury when applying such a restraint? Are they taught guidelines on the maximum time such a hold can be safely employed?
Will the scrutiny continue?
In a Feb 12 debate over acquiring surveillance drones for the CCPD – who faced an onslaught of public rebuke during the 3-month process – Culver City Councilmember Megan Sahli-Wells brought up the issue of trust between law enforcement and the community they serve.
“I have a lot of trust because I’ve learned to know this police department really well over the years I’ve been serving in council,” she said. “That’s not the case for a lot of people. There’s a level of mistrust.”
She cited this mistrust as a reason why the Culver City community was apprehensive of permitting their police to buy camera-equipped drones, going on to say that public trust was essential to a good relationship between community and police.
But after a rocky start to 2018 – including a clumsy process to eventually obtain the drones, a spate of inflammatory and racially-charged public Facebook comments made by a sworn officer, and evidence of this violent interaction – community trust isn’t exactly at an all-time high.
A step toward repair might be to follow through on the “opportunity” for community dialogue the CCPD prompted in April. Assuming they released their dash footage in good faith – and not because its publication was imminent anyway – there should be no issue with beginning a good faith discussion about Culver City residents’ comfort with their police routinely deploying the force used on Walton.
It’s probably not an issue Culver City will pursue of its own volition. Will the people force their hand?