An appeals court reinstated a New York City law Thursday that prohibits the city’s police officers from putting pressure on a person’s torso while making an arrest, reversing a lower court ruling that labeled the measure as “unconstitutionally vague.”
A five-judge panel in the appellate division of the state’s trial court ruled that the law, passed in 2020 in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, is clear in what officers can and can’t do, and won’t lead to arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.
The measure is sometimes referred to as the “diaphragm law” because it bans officers from restraining people “in a manner that compresses the diaphragm.”
Manhattan Judge Laurence Love struck down the law last year after police unions sued the city to block it. In the wake of his ruling, the city council considered revising the law, but that effort stalled.
The Police Benevolent Association said it was reviewing its legal options, which could include bringing the matter to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
The union’s president, Patrick Lynch, said Thursday’s ruling “deals a direct blow to our fight against the violence that is tearing our city apart.”
“This ill-conceived law makes it virtually impossible for police officers to safely and legally take violent criminals into custody — the very job that New Yorkers are urgently asking us to do,” Lynch said in a written statement.
The police department also criticized the appellate court decision, saying the law “went too far” and that Love was “right to strike it down.”
Deputy Commissioner John Miller said the NYPD recognizes that positional asphyxia is a real danger when making arrests and trains officers to position suspects, once they are under control, in a way that promotes free breathing.
“Police officers should not be performing their duty under a constant fear of arrest and prosecution when making an arrest of a defendant who chooses to physically resist their efforts,” Miller said in a written statement.
The newly reinstated New York City law is one of many police reforms enacted across the U.S. in the wake of Floyd’s death, which occurred as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for about 9 1/2 minutes.
The law also outlaws the use of chokeholds by police officers. The NYPD has long banned that tactic, which is also illegal under state law. In 2014, Eric Garner was killed when a white NYPD officer placed him in a chokehold; the Black man’s dying gasps of “I can’t breathe” gave voice to a national debate over race and police use of force.