Aurora introduces ban on police carotid control holds, solidifying recent policy changes

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AURORA | Two Aurora lawmakers on Thursday introduced a city ordinance that would codify a ban on the use of chokeholds and carotid control holds by Aurora police.

City Manager Jim Twombly last week mandated a new policy that bans carotid control holds in the city, but the new ordinance would further solidify the prohibition by formally adding it to city code — not merely Aurora police policy directives.

Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson on June 9 introduced a policy directive banning the controversial carotid holds, which involve officers applying pressure to the side of a person’s neck — not their throat — to briefly prevent blood flow to the brain.

“While we appreciate her moving on this, we feel it is important to codify these bans so they cannot be rolled back by a change in department leadership and so that our community knows where council stands on the matter,” Councilperson Juan Marcano, who introduced the ordinance with Councilperson Angela Lawson, said.

The city is currently in the process of hiring a new police chief, with a town hall meeting scheduled with a quartet of finalists, including Wilson, set for next week.

The use of the carotid control hold in the city received heightened scrutiny after officers applied the technique last summer to Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old unarmed black man who died days after he was stopped by officers on his way home from a north Aurora convenience store. Council members recently asked Twombly to open a new investigation into McClain’s death.

“We feel this is one of the easiest thing we can do to show the community we are listening to them,” Marcano said of the proposal during the policy meeting. 

Police received a total of four complaints on the use of chokeholds, strangleholds and carotid holds between 2015 and 2019, according to city documents. The department has received 200 such complaints this year, including more than 120 phone calls, all of which were in reference to McClain’s death.

The proposed ordinance would also prevent an officer from using a chokehold, “unless such officer is faced with a situation in which the use of deadly force is justified under applicable law,” according to the measure’s proposed language.

Aurora police have never permitted officers to use chokeholds or strangleholds, Division Chief Lee Condreay said Thursday.

A newly-passed bill, SB217, disallows use of chokeholds and carotid control holds. The difference between the state law, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, and the city proposal are the potential consequences an officer could face, said Deputy City Attorney Nancy Rodgers. At the state level, those holds are considered unlawful and could be held as excessive force. Gov. Jared Polis said he will sign the measure.

At the city level, a violation of the ordinance would likely lead to disciplinary measures or termination.

Members of the city’s public safety committee unanimously granted initial approval to the ordinance Thursday afternoon. The measure will now move to the full council for further discussion.

— Staff Reporter Kara Mason contributed to this article