A Lack of In-Service Training May Lead to Liability
In Lewis v. City of Chicago, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7482 (Ill. N. District 2005), a federal trial court set forth the importance of in-service training with respect to restraint and control tactics. Christopher Hicks died during the course of his arrest on May 26, 2004. His death was ruled a homicide and the cause of death was listed as asphyxiation due to restraint. The restraint as alleged by Hicks’ estate was a choke-hold. The involved officer, Louis Soto, acknowledged that he had Hicks in a choke-hold but denies having choked him. The issue in this decision focuses on training conducted by the Chicago Police Department. Officer Soto attended the police academy in 1977. At that time, the department trained officer in a “choke-hold” or “sleeper-hold” in which pressure was put on the subject’s carotid artery until the subject lost consciousness. Neck restraints and choke-holds were trained to Chicago officers until 1983 when, due to public concerns, the department discontinued training on these restraints, which the department decided were too dangerous to citizens. Officer Soto attended the police academy in 1977 and thus, was trained in the choke-hold. Current agency training at the entry-level prohibits use of neck-restraints.
In reviewing the training at issue in this case, the court focused on whether Officer Soto had received any additional training on restraint and control tactics after he graduated from the police academy in 1977. The court noted that most of the City of Chicago Police Department’s in-service occurred at roll-call and was conducted by way of streaming-video and lecture. Although the department indicated that it had conducted training on current use of force policies, there was no documentation that Officer Soto received this training. Officer Soto indicated that he had been told about the prohibition on neck restraint, but could not remember who told him or when and could not remember what tactics he had received training on in 1977.
The court concluded that two closely-related training issues should go forward in this case. First, a jury may conclude that the department had failed to retrain Officer Soto on a tactic which the agency had concluded was too dangerous. Secondly, the court considered the argument that defensive tactics skills diminish over time and thus, the City may have failed in an obligation to conduct regular in-service training on restraint and control tactics.
• Agencies must regularly update officers who are beyond the entry-level as tactics change.
• Agencies must regularly conduct in-service training in the high-liability skills which diminish over time without regular training.