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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
How martial arts can get you 25 years in prison (murder charge for use of choke hold)

Some of you may be aware of the case (USA) of Terry Thompson who used a choke hold to restrain John Hernandez after he was observed urinating in a car park. John Hernandez died as a result and this week Terry Thompson was sentenced to 25 years in prison. This video may be of interest to many here.

While the law around this kind of thing will vary from place to place (law is not the same here in the UK), the case does highlight for everyone that the use of force always caries serious risks physically and legally. The risk to benefit ratio therefore needs to be firmly tilted in the right direction.

While urinating in public is unlawful and unpleasant, the use of force in this case resulted in a death, a grieving family, a 25 year prison sentence and children growing up without their father (possibly mother too as she is also facing murder charges).

A tragic case and a strong reminder of the need to maintain a very high threshold for the use of force.

All the best,

Iain

 

Video of the incident:

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

If I recall correctly, in most States here in the US, chokes are considered "deadly force," and a number of police departments actually started calling some of their chokes "neck restraints" to keep considering them "less lethal" methods. It's been a few years since that whole thing went down, though, and I could be remembering incorrectly.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Wastelander wrote:
If I recall correctly, in most States here in the US, chokes are considered "deadly force," and a number of police departments actually started calling some of their chokes "neck restraints" to keep considering them "less lethal" methods.

As I understand it, here in the UK, the police don’t use them any more because of the difficulties in differentiating between a person resisting and intuitively fighting for their lives i.e. person can’t breathe so they fight to clear the airway; the officer mistakes this for resisting arrest, so they apply the hold with more force; and the cycle continues to a potentially fatal end. Add in the effects of positional asphyxia, if they are pined to the floor with an officer on top, and you have a very problematic mix.

There are problems with not learning them too though.  A few year ago, I did a course with a gentleman who was a leading expert witness in use of force cases. As part of the course, he showed us some footage of a police officer offer (a big guy) pulling a third party away from his colleague and the person he was trying to talk to over a preceding incident. The third party kept intervening despite being asked to move on. The officer put his arm around the third party’s neck and pulled him away. Because the officer has no training in strangles (because they are not used any more) he accidently strangled the third-party unconscious (in just a few seconds) and was visibly confused and surprised when the third-party fell. This was examined as potentially being excessive force on the part of the officer, but was dropped because it was accidental and due to a lack of training i.e. the officer himself was not at fault.

It would seem the key is to learn them properly, so they can be generally avoided (i.e. not used for restraint or arrest), and only used when higher levels of force are needed to ensure officer safety.

All the best,

Iain

Wastelander
Wastelander's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
As I understand it, here in the UK, the police don’t use them any more because of the difficulties in differentiating between a person resisting and intuitively fighting for their lives ... SNIP

I do believe that some States here have made them illegal, entirely, but not all. Honestly, I have seen a number of "restraint" methods in use by police that I see as excessive and dangerous, which I would like to see changed. A simple contrast was when, a few years ago, a group of Swedish police officers were visiting New York City, and witnessed an altercation on a train, which they broke up and used shoulder locks to pin one man to the floor, and bound the other man's arms behind him with his jacket. Both of these methods left both men able to breathe, and able to be reasoned with and calmed down. Compare that with all the instances of police here using strangles, or pinning people face-down on the ground by driving their knee into the suspect's back, restricting their breathing. I can definitely see the case for needing to understand them in order to avoid doing them improperly and, thus, even more dangerously, as well, as your example points out.

AlexDP
AlexDP's picture

I'm having a hard time understanding how observing someone urinating in public in any circumstance would lead to a situation where you need to use self-defense in a civilian context.

I'm having a hard time understanding how any civilian could make the case that they could apply any use of force in this context. How does someone urinating - legally become a reasonable threat to your person or anyone else for that matter?

From my read they went outside and got into a conflict rather than escape a non-existent altercation. I think this is more within the context of a deputy sherrif and her husband feeling entitled to get involved and escalate a situation because they feel a duty to punish wrongdoers than it was a case of "defending" anything. That doesn't feel self-protectioney to me.

Thus I'm experiencing a bit of confusing as to its relevance to self-defense and a focus on the type of choke used is a minor point. I think the bigger learning ought to be: don't go start and conflict with a drunk who isn't an immedate threat if you are a civilian.  

PASmith
PASmith's picture

I'm having a hard time understanding how observing someone urinating in public in any circumstance would lead to a situation where you need to use self-defense in a civilian context.

I don't have a hard time understanding that at all. The last time I got into verbals and was threatened with being knocked out was because someone pushed in front of me in a queue (I'm British...queuing is very important!). I didn't seek the conflict out per se. Just responded to behaviour I found objectionable. The other guys response to me was what created the conflict.

I can easily see how calling someone out for behaving badly in public (something I think should be OK to do) could result in a self defence situation if the other person becomes belligerent and responds with aggression.

Of course we can debate the pros and cons of standing up to people in this way if our goal is to avoid threatening situations at all costs but legitimate self defence situations can develop from seemingly innocuous beginings IMHO.

Tau
Tau's picture

To backtrack, the issue here is that there was no necessity for intervention. And it was disproportionate. I embolden these words as this is UK law summarised. I think the appropriate British traditional response would be a loud "tut" and move on. 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

AlexDP wrote:
I'm having a hard time understanding how any civilian could make the case that they could apply any use of force in this context. How does someone urinating - legally become a reasonable threat to your person or anyone else for that matter?

This obviously happened in the US, but here in the UK your right to reasonable force comes into play when you are preventing crime. In self-defence, the crime is being committed against you, but the law applies to all other crime too. Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 states that:

A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.

Urinating in a public place is a crime (1986 Public Order Act), so in theory you could use reasonable force to prevent the urination (no idea how that would work!). However, I can’t see the use of force passing the “necessary” part of the test in practise; even if the force used was reasonable (and in the case being discussed in clearly was not).

AlexDP wrote:
I think the bigger learning ought to be: don't go start and conflict with a drunk who isn't an immediate threat if you are a civilian.

With you 100%. Call the police and let them deal with it … however …

PASmith wrote:
I can easily see how calling someone out for behaving badly in public (something I think should be OK to do) could result in a self-defence situation if the other person becomes belligerent and responds with aggression.

I can see this happening too. People were eating in the restaurant and it’s entirely possible that a drunk man exposing himself and urinating could have caused distress and upset. If you tried to prevent the antisocial behaviour and it escalated, such that the person became a physical threat, then it would shift to a more clear-cut self-defence scenario. While the law would then be on your side, the law does not prevent the physical harm that could ensue. I can think of a number of cases where people have been killed when seeking to stop criminal / anti-social actions where no one was immediately at risk. The person acting in an antisocial way / criminal could also get badly hurt or killed too. If that happened, it could be hard to live with the fact that you took away someone’s son, brother, father, friend, etc over them pissing in the street or similar and it escalating from there.

While both bad behaviour and non-violent criminal activity are irksome / infuriating to most decent people, there can be serious legal and physical consequences for all involved if we challenge or intervene. While we don’t want to live in a world where everyone turns a blind eye, we do have to think very carefully about the potential consequences of our actions.

All the best,

Iain