On Saturday, the Nevada Assembly took up Assembly Bill 3 for consideration and passed it in a vote of 38-4, with Republican Assembly members Chris Edwards, John Ellison, Robin Titus and Jim Wheeler voting nay.
The bill, if passed, would make policing reforms in the state—including a ban on lateral vascular neck restraints, a potentially deadly choke hold technique through which pressure is put on the carotid artery to cut off blood to the brain in an effort to render a person unconscious. The bill also covers the right of citizens to record police interactions via video, still images or audio, with certain limitations—and the obligation of peace officers who witness the use of excessive force to intervene, should it be safe for them to do so, and report on incidents within 10 days.
A “choke hold” according to the bill, means “a method by which a person applies sufficient pressure to another person to make breathing difficult or impossible, ‘including, without limitation, any pressure to the neck, throat or windpipe that may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air,’ or applying ‘pressure to a person’s neck on either side of the windpipe, but not the windpipe itself, to stop the flow of blood to the brain via the carotid arteries.’”
AB3 also would require that officers detaining a person put said person “in a recovery position…if he or she appears to be in distress or indicates that he or she cannot breathe” and requires “aid is rendered to any person who is injured by the use of physical force” by a police officer.
Assembly member Steve Yeager (D-Clark County) brought the bill forth. Before explaining its contents, he took time to explain four pins he wore on the lapels of his suit jacket.
One pin, Yeager said, featured the same image that was sculpted for the police memorial at the capitol campus and is used each year for a statewide relay race honoring officers killed in the line of duty. The second pin he wore signifies that he’s a graduate of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy. The third was a Black Lives Matter pin, and the fourth a pin featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“As a legislator, I’m committed to doing everything I can to make sure Black lives matter just as much as any other lives,” Yeager said.
“These four lapel pins and the values they represent are not mutually exclusive,” he added. “That fact may be uncomfortable to some.”
Legislative Counsel Bureau staff member Nick Anthony presented the details of the bill to legislators.
Prior to taking questions, Assembly member Yeager took a moment to clarify some issues concerning the bill, including the fact that choke holds could still be used in instances where an officer deemed deadly force was necessary and that—should a choke hold result in a fatality—an officer could still claim justifiable homicide.
Yeager also addressed questions concerning a subsection of the bill that would require law enforcement agencies to submit certain data on or before Nov. 1. That includes information concerning traffic stops and other stops, the ways in which they’re reported and the period for which such records are maintained. It also includes the types of information that are collected and maintained, ranging from any geographic information relating to the stops to “the software used to process the identity or driver’s license number of a person during a traffic stop,” and how long that’s stored in said software’s history—as well as any limitations on accessing the records and how and by whom they can be requested.
Legislators clarify the finer points
Assembly members were given a chance to ask questions before Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson invited public comment on the measure. They asked questions that ranged from ensuring confidentiality for officers who report use of excessive force against one another to how terms like “reasonable force” might be used and interpreted when legal actions involving police arise.
Yeager and Anthony were joined by Director for the LVMPD’s Office of Intergovernmental Services, Chuck Callaway—who also served more than 19 years as a LVMPD officer—in answering questions. All three responded that much of the requested information can be found in existing law and current policies in place at agencies throughout the state.
It was Assembly member Skip Daly (D-Washoe County) who asked about how reasonable force might be determined.
Callaway responded that LVMPD currently trains officers to only use the amount of force “that’s necessary to affect an arrest.” He cited the 1989 Graham v. Connor U.S. Supreme Court decision to establish an objective, reasonable standard.
Graham v. Conner was a case involving a Black, diabetic man named Dethorne Graham, who asked a friend to take him for orange juice while having an insulin reaction in 1984, had a run-in with the police in Charlotte, North Carolina, that resulted in him suffering a broken foot, cuts on his wrists, a bruised forehead and an injured shoulder.
The case brought up questions of how excessive force cases should be analyzed—either under the Fourth, Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments. In its ruling in the case, the Supreme Court determined that excessive use of force claims have to be evaluated under the “objectively reasonable” standard of the Fourth Amendment. It requires courts to consider the facts and circumstances surrounding an officer’s use of force instead of the officer’s intent or motivation during that use of force.
Assembly member Robin Titus (R-Churchill and Lyon counties) asked if the measure would apply to all officers in Nevada, including tribal police, and was told yes.
Assembly member John Ellison (R-Elko, Eureka, Lincoln and White Pine counties) asked if Yeager or Calloway knew of any law enforcement agencies in Nevada that currently have policies allowing choke holds. Calloway responded that he did not and that lateral vascular neck restraints are considered in the deadly force category of actions by LVMPD—and that he believed the same is true for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
Ellison followed up by noting “there are a lot of rumors out there saying, ‘they’re going to defund the police agencies across the state,’” and asked if public outreach or “PR” would be done to combat these rumors. Yeager responded that there is a lot of misinformation about what was proposed to be in the bill.
“I think the best PR we can do is encourage folks to read the bill,” he said. “And, as electeds, it’s up to us to do what we can to correct that misinformation.”
Assembly member Lesley Cohen (D-Clark County) took time to address methods other than choke holds that can restrict a person’s breathing and asked if these would be banned, too. She noted that she’d had some constituents proffer to her the ill-informed idea that George Floyd—who was killed by Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers—could not have died from lack of oxygen as he was repeatedly speaking, saying, “I can’t breathe.” She was satisfied with her line of questioning upon being informed that any method that restricts blood flow and breathing would be banned.
“It would apply if the pressure is sufficient to make it difficult or impossible for a person to breathe,” Yeager said.
The public weighs in on AB3
Emotions ran high during the public comment portion of the hearing on AB3, with so many callers who supported the measure expressing criticism of it for not going far enough that Frierson felt it necessary to interrupt several callers to ask if they were, in fact, calling in support of AB3 or were actually in opposition.
Holly Ramella, a victim advocate who lives in Las Vegas’ Assembly District 8 called in support of the bill, calling it a good “first step” and noting choke holds are used even in places where they are banned.
“We have a long way to go in holding police accountable,” she said. “For those of us who have protested to address police brutality, we have been met with even more violence. Our communities need to be able to directly hold police accountable for the violence they have caused without fear of retaliation.”
Matthew Kaplan, President of the Nevada Police Union, also called in support of the bill.
He said, “It represents a step in the right direction toward improving public safety services for Nevada’s visitors and residents,” adding, he believes there are other reforms and actions that can be taken in the future to improve state law enforcement.
Nick Vander Poel with Capitol Partners called on behalf of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce in support of AB3.
“The Chamber knows there is no perfect bill, but we acknowledge that the measure being proposed is a step that addresses our community, public safety and law enforcement protocol,” he said.
There were also many callers who offered testimony in opposition of the bill, including Scott Nicholas, Vice President of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association.
“As we all know, this special session was called for by the governor because of special interest groups taking advantage of circumstances around the country that had absolutely nothing to do with Nevada,” he said. “There is no compelling need to make drastic changes in laws that could impede the officers in our state to safely arrest a suspect. In no way will restrictive laws prevent the death of a noncompliant criminal who is high on drugs, has an enlarged heart or is fighting officers to escape a lawful arrest. What we should be focusing on is educating the public on the dangers of resisting arrest.”
He said he’d like to see a new public information campaign called “Compliance Saves Lives.”
Will Huddler, a lieutenant with the LVMPD and Chairman of the Police Managers Supervisors Association, called in opposition of the bill on what he described as a “technicality” related to Section 4, Subsection 2 and its definition of custody.
“There’s case precedent in our Ninth Circuit, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, that defines custody as when someone is not free to leave. And if someone is fighting with an officer as an officer tries to place them under arrest, it’s obviously a situation where they’re not free to leave—yet they’re not yet in handcuffs; they’re not yet in the back of a police car. So, I believe we have an opportunity to clean that up.”
Huddler praised the time legislators had put into working on the bill and citizens for voicing their opinions before adding, “From a police union leader, even one excessive use of force is unacceptable—even just one—and there isn’t anyone that wants a bad cop held accountable more than a good cop, than a good cop who signed up for the right reasons and is doing everything he or she can to protect our communities on a daily basis…We’ve been led to believe that there’s someone in Carson City that believes officers in Las Vegas don’t think Black lives matter. That’s preposterous. Black lives absolutely matter.”
Assembly members took a recess before returning to vote on AB3. Several of them took the opportunity to speak on the bill prior to the vote. Among them was Assembly member Lisa Krasner (R-Washoe County), who described having to speak with her sons about the killing of 18-year-old Sparks man Miciah Lee by Sparks Police Department officers.
“It’s so hard for a mom to answer two sons when they say, ‘Mom, why did the police shoot that kid when they said he was suicidal?’ and I just think we need some police reform. Again, I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement officers, but this can’t go on. This is wrong, and I support AB3.”
AB3 passed out of the Assembly on a 38-4 vote. It will next be heard in the Senate.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.