General Assembly Agrees to Chokehold Compromise

Council members pass an ordinance to allow data sharing despite public outcry

By Brian Carlton

October 8, 2020

Bill no longer an outright chokehold ban, goes to the governor for his signature

RICHMOND-Divided over the chokehold issue, the Virginia House and Senate reached a compromise Wednesday. The practice won’t be banned, but police officers will only be able to use it in a very specific circumstance. 

By a 60-35 vote, House members agreed to adopt the Senate’s version of the bill. The original proposal by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) made it a Class 6 felony to use a chokehold as a police officer. Her bill, HB5069, passed the House in September. When it went to the Senate, however, members had a few issues. They argued there was no need to create a new felony charge, as any officer accused of using a chokehold would fall under the same rules as anyone else. In 2012, the General Assembly made strangulation a felony under Virginia Code 18.2-51.6. Basically, strangling someone else is already illegal. Law enforcement officers just fall under those same restrictions now. 

But there is one exception.The only time a law enforcement officer can use a chokehold is when “such use is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person.”

Basically, officers can use a chokehold to save their own life. If someone else’s life is in jeopardy nearby, they can use it in that case too. Otherwise, the bill bans the practice in police departments throughout the Commonwealth. 

If any officer fails to follow those rules, they’ll face discipline. 

“Any officer who knowingly violates this section shall be subject to disciplinary action,” the bill states. “[That includes] dismissal, demotion, suspension, or transfer of the officer, or decertification as provided elsewhere in the Code.” 

Senate changed the intent

Del. Foy told House members Wednesday that, even with the changes, the bill needed to be adopted. If the House continued to push for a felony, she was concerned they would end up with nothing. 

“The Senate is adamant it is not inclined to move forward on chokeholds for anything other than decertification,” Foy said. 

Foy filed the bill after the death of George Floyd earlier this year. Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed the 46-year-old Floyd by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while trying to make an arrest. Floyd stood accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill in a nearby store in the city. His death triggered protests about police brutality across the country, including here in Richmond. 

Foy told House members she hopes to revisit the bill later, in hopes of making it stronger. With approval from both the House and Senate, it now goes to the governor for his signature.

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