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New York City Police Unions Sue to Block City’s Chokehold Ban

Ratcheting up their counteroffensive against the criminal justice reform legislation, dozens of New York City police unions filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to invalidate the city’s new chokehold ban.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Ratcheting up their counteroffensive against the criminal justice reform legislation, dozens of New York City police unions filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to invalidate the city’s new chokehold ban. 

“The law has been widely criticized by district attorneys, law enforcement officials and other experts in law enforcement,” the 24-page complaint states. 

Led by the city’s Police Benevolent Association, the lawsuit comes six years after Staten Island resident Eric Garner’s death in a police chokehold. Garner’s dying gasps of “I can’t breathe,” captured on a viral video, drove thousands onto the streets in 2014.  

It took George Floyd uttering the same words under a Minneapolis officer’s knee this year to spur New York State and city legislators to pass a ban on the practice among a suite of reforms designed to promote transparency, accountability and restraints upon police.  

Since Governor Andrew Cuomo signed those bills in June, police unions have fought systematically to dismantle the new laws. A different lawsuit filed in federal court last month aimed to block the release of thousands of NYPD disciplinary records, many of which were recently posted publicly by ProPublica

The NYCLU later won the right to post a similar database, in a ruling currently under appeal to the Second Circuit. 

Police unions’ latest lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court attacks the city’s chokehold ban signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio on July 15th as “unconstitutionally vague.” 

“An ordinary police officer will be unable to discern whether many ordinary activities taken in the course of the apprehension and arrest of a suspect violate the statute,” attorney Anthony Cole, from the firm DLA Piper, writes in the complaint. 

The statute criminalizes using any restraint that restricts the flow of air or blood “by  compressing the windpipe or the carotid arteries on each side of the neck, or sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm, in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest.” 

The law does not require prosecutors to prove intent or injury. 

“Rather, any violation of its terms, even absent intent or resulting injury, exposes a police officer to prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor and up to a year in prison,” the complaint states. “This punitive municipal law threatens police officers with fines and imprisonment for doing their jobs in good faith with no intent to harm a suspect, nor even any requirement that a suspect suffer injury.” 

The unions do not attack the state statute, which they claim preempts the municipal law.  

Asking a state judge to block the law, the unions allege four violations of the New York Constitution.  

Asked about the lawsuit, New York City Law Department’s spokesman Nick Paolucci wrote in an email: “We’re reviewing the complaint.” 

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