Facedown and handcuffed is no way to die, yet it keeps happening over and over again
Prone restraint death leads to lawsuit against Aurora Police officers
DPD says it will use PRONE investigation in officer training
Supreme Court weighs in on prone restraint death
Deaths of restrained and facedown suspects continue to happen even after death of George Floyd
A groundbreaking investigation led by 9NEWS found a pattern of deaths nationwide that mirror the death of George Floyd.
Each death happened under the knees, elbows and bodies of officers who should have known better.
Initiated months before the death of Floyd, the two-year PRONE investigation documented the deaths of 132 people who died facedown, handcuffed and under the weight of officers above them. The investigation discovered at least $145 million in settlements and verdicts.
In Colorado, the Denver Police Department will now use portions of the PRONE investigation to better train its officers on the risks associated with prolonged prone restraint.
In Minnesota, the Minneapolis Police Department initiated enhanced prone restraint training following the airing of the PRONE investigation on Minneapolis’ KARE 11. In addition, a sweeping new reform law introduced in response to the investigation will now ban prone restraint in all Minnesota jails and prisons except when deadly force is authorized.
“At the end of the day, prone restraint is a dangerous tactical move, and that’s why it’s outlawed,” Minneapolis Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell told KARE reporter A.J. Lagoe.
PRONE began after the review of a case of a man who died under seven officers in Aurora, Colorado, in late 2018. The medical examiner listed “positional asphyxia” as the cause of death. In late 2019 and early 2020, 9NEWS investigative reporter Chris Vanderveen started reviewing court filings, autopsy reports, media reports and body camera recordings as he sought to find additional cases involving prone restraint deaths.
Nine television investigative units dedicated resources to the project. Many helped conduct interviews with families of people who died following prolonged prone restraint. Those interviews enabled those stations to localize the problem and air additional stories.
The database served as the springboard for a series of stories that documented a long history of law enforcement officers ignoring advice first offered by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1995. The database isn’t just a list of names. It lists, among other things, key metrics that allowed reporters to find commonalities in many of the cases.
For example, at least 26 people told officers, “I can’t breathe” before they died. More than half of those who died showed signs of mental illness.
November 2020: Facedown and handcuffed is no way to die, yet it keeps happening over and over again
Some moaned. Others moved very little. At least 20 said, “I can’t breathe.” Most were mentally ill. Many were obese. More than half had drugs in their systems. More than two-thirds were either Black or Hispanic.
Some names, like George Floyd or Eric Garner, you likely know well.
Others, like David Baker or Roy Nelson, you might not have heard mentioned at all.
In all, 9Wants to Know found at least 107 names of people nationwide who died facedown and on the ground since 2010. There are likely many more.
All were, at one point, held prone. In other words, they were restrained on their stomachs while officers tried to handcuff them.
By our count, their deaths have led to more than $70 million in settlements and verdicts.
Yet not even that figure has proven enough to convince law enforcement officers to do what they were advised to do back in 1995 when the U.S. Department of Justice, through its National Institute of Justice Program, told officers: “As soon as the suspect is handcuffed, get him off his stomach.”
December 2020: Prone restraint death leads to lawsuit against Aurora Police officers
The estranged wife of a man who died shortly after being held in a prone position by Aurora police filed a lawsuit against the officers, alleging excessive force led to the 2018 death of David Baker.
Baker’s death, profiled in the PRONE investigation, happened just outside Daisy Baker’s apartment on Dec. 17, 2017.
According to an autopsy report, David Baker died of “restraint asphyxia” shortly after officers wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him facedown and on his stomach.
The lawsuit was settled out of court in April 2022.
May 2021: DPD says it will use PRONE investigation in officer training
After the first part of PRONE aired in both Denver and Minneapolis, the two police departments elected to change the way they train their officers.
After Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen's training staff saw the PRONE investigation, they decided they should use some of the video in their own training moving forward.
The Denver Police Department has had warnings about prone restraint in its training manuals for years, but Pazen said it would be helpful for his officers to see video of what can happen as well.
“We want to make sure we don’t just have a policy in place and assume that it’s not going to happen here,” he said.
Weeks after KARE in Minneapolis aired PRONE, the Minneapolis Police Department ordered the entire police force to undergo additional in-person “positional asphyxia training.”
“This is MANDATORY TRAINING for all Sworn MPD and Park Police Personal,” the internal memo states.
The required two-hour training sessions were scheduled in mid-December 2020 and covered the MPD Use of Force Policy and positional asphyxia.
“I think the news coverage about the dangers of positional asphyxiation and prone restraint were absolutely essential to changing the MPD practice and training around prone restraint,” Minneapolis Police Commissioner Abigail Cerra told KARE reporter A.J. Lagoe.
June 2021: Supreme Court weighs in on prone restraint death
When the United States Supreme Court decided to revive a little-discussed civil rights case against the city of St. Louis, it effectively sent a message to law enforcement officers across the country, according to one of the attorneys who asked the Court to review the case.
The case of Lombardo v. St. Louis hinges on the issue of prolonged prone restraint. In 2015, Nicholas Gilbert died inside a St. Louis jail after, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of his mother, officers piled on top of the handcuffed man.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in an unsigned opinion, sent Lombardo v. St. Louis back to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for additional review. The decision represents a victory of sorts for the team of attorneys who fought to get the Court to review the case that had been tossed by the 8th Circuit.
Justices mentioned, in the four-page opinion, that there is “a well-known police guidance recommending that officers get a subject off his stomach as soon as he is handcuffed because of that risk.”
December 2021: Deaths of restrained and facedown suspects continue to happen even after death of George Floyd
George Floyd’s death under the body of a former Minneapolis police officer has yet to stop officers across the United States from using a dangerous restraint technique, according to an ongoing investigation by 9Wants to Know.
At least eight people have died under the knees, elbows and bodies of arresting officers since the May 2020 death of Floyd. While Floyd’s death prompted widespread outrage, it has yet to lead to widespread legal change when it comes to the restraint technique that, according to experts who testified against the officer now convicted of murder, led to Floyd’s death.
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