Can hogtying a detainee place that person at risk of death from oxygen deprivation, or "positional asphyxiation?" Many experts, both inside and outside of the law enforcement community, say it can. Others think otherwise.
The fact is, that debate doesn't matter. What's indisputable is that the families of deceased suspects who were hogtied routinely sue police agencies and win. Whether the suspect's death was caused or hastened by hogtying -- a maneuver in which the ankles are bound and then connected to handcuffs behind the back -- or some other circumstance is almost immaterial here. When it's learned that suspects who die in police custody have been hogtied, attorneys' eyes light up and taxpayers invariably fork out.
That is precisely why so many law enforcement agencies, including the Bakersfield and Los Angeles police departments, have banned the practice completely.
But what about the Kern County Sheriff's Office, which is currently embroiled in the legal and procedural aftermath of David Sal Silva's in-custody death in May?
The Sheriff's department hasn't said whether Silva -- whose death was officially ruled "accidental" and primarily attributed to heart problems -- was hogtied or not. There is no mention of hogtying in the incident reports, and Sheriff Donny Youngblood has said only that Silva's ankles were secured with a restraining device that two CHP officers at the scene provided. The CHP is even more tight-lipped than Youngblood; the state agency won't share anything at all about department policy regarding leg restraints.
But the CHP did pay a $250,000 settlement just last year to a Los Angeles County woman whose roadside takedown -- complete with hogtying -- was immortalized on video.
Witnesses say Silva was in fact hogtied. We can expect to hear them repeat that observation when the inevitable civil suits start moving forward.
Of all the lessons that have come from the Silva incident, at least one should now be abundantly obvious: Hogtying isn't worth it. What's more, many law enforcement experts say it's not even a necessary tactic; officers have safer, effective alternatives.
The Kern County Sheriff's Office should remove hogtying from its suspect apprehension playbook entirely. County Counsel, which defers many of these decisions to law enforcement, should in this case step in and make the call.
If the KCSO won't ban hogtying for the sake of detainees' well-being, it ought to do so for the sake of taxpayers.