San Francisco Police Sue Over City’s Chokehold Ban

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – San Francisco’s police union sued the city last week over its approval of a new policy that bars officers from shooting at moving vehicles or using chokeholds on suspects.

Citing recent attacks in Nice, France, and Columbus, Ohio, where vehicles were used as weapons against civilians, the union says the new policy will hinder officers’ ability to protect themselves and the public from killers behind the wheel.

The city currently faces a string of lawsuits over police killings, including the shooting death of 29-year-old Jessica Williams in May. Williams was shot dead by a police sergeant while attempting to flee in a stolen vehicle, according to the wrongful death suit filed by her family in October.

Williams’ death prompted the resignation of former Police Chief Greg Suhr, who faced mounting pressure to step down after a series of fatal police shootings and two sets of scandals over officers exchanging racist text messages.

The city announced last week it had selected Bill Scott, a black deputy police chief from Los Angeles, to head the San Francisco Police Department starting in late January after months of searching for a new chief.

The new use-of-force policy, unanimously approved by the city’s seven-member police commission on Dec. 21, also bans officers from using carotid restraints, the same kind of chokehold an officer used on Eric Garner in Staten Island in July 2014. Garner’s death, caused by the police chokehold, led to nationwide protests with police reform activists chanting Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe.”

The union claims the city’s police commission had previously agreed to let officers continue using the chokehold technique with some new restrictions.

The newly approved policy comes more than two months after the Department of Justice issued 272 recommendations aimed at reforming the troubled city police department.

Under the new rules, officers are completely barred from shooting at moving vehicles unless a suspect is firing a gun from the vehicle.

In the lawsuit filed on Dec. 20, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association claims the city failed to bargain in good faith with the union before approving the new policy in violation of the union’s memorandum of understanding with the city.

“If the commission is permitted to unilaterally implement the revised use of force policy, the POA’s ability to meet and confer meaningfully over the changes in working conditions contained within the policy will be irreparably harmed,” the 12-page complaint states.

The suit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, claims the city prematurely declared an impasse in its negotiations with the union on Oct. 21 and failed to exhaust impasse-resolution procedures as required under the city charter and state law.

The union seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to block implementation of the new policy, and to force the city to resolve the dispute through arbitration.

Greg Adam of Messing Adam & Jasmine in San Francisco represents the union.

The San Francisco Police Department, which employs 2,294 officers, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Marty Halloran and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday morning.