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PRONE: Investigation finds 132 people who died facedown, handcuffed and under the weight of officers

The investigation led by 9NEWS discovered at least $145 million in settlements and verdicts.

Chris Vanderveen

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Published: 5:36 PM MDT June 7, 2022
Updated: 5:56 PM MDT June 7, 2022

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.