canada africa partner reservation Georgia requires less basic training for new police officers than any state except Hawaii – WABE

Georgia requires less basic training for new police officers than any state except Hawaii – WABE

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Georgia requires fewer hours of basic training for law enforcement than any state except Hawaii. This training places new officers in unpredictable and dangerous situations where they have to make quick decisions under stress.

Even though they had more than five years on the Columbus Police Department, that’s what Officer Michael Aguilar and his partner faced in the early morning hours of January 9, 2017.

Hector Arreola, 30, had called police twice after 3:40 a.m., fearing he was being followed and that his mother was in danger. When Aguilar and Officer Brian Dudley showed up at Arreola’s mother’s home to check on her safety, they found him outside.

Aguilar believed Arreola may be having a mental health crisis and called emergency medical services. He tried to reassure Arreola. When Arreola ran into a neighbor’s yard, the officers gave him space.

“The last thing I wanted to do was arrest Hector Arreola,” Aguilar later said in a statement for a lawsuit filed by Arreola’s family.

But when Arreola knocked on the neighbor’s door, officers arrested him for disorderly conduct, handcuffed him and held him face down while Aguilar sat on Arreola’s lower back. CCTV footage showed Arreola screaming at least thirteen times that he could not breathe.

He went into cardiac arrest and died in hospital the next day.

Arreola’s death was initially ruled an accident due to methamphetamines. But in 2020, an amended autopsy reclassified it as a homicide caused by “sudden cardiac death due to (a) struggle with law enforcement, including restraint in prone position, complicating acute methamphetamine toxicity.”

In 2021, the city of Columbus agreed to pay Arreola’s family $500,000 to settle the lawsuit.

For Arreola’s father, Rodrigo Arreola, justice remains elusive.

“I served in the military for 22 years and I served my country. I have served for all who have not served. I served for my family. I have ministered to other families,” he said in an interview. “Where is my righteousness?”

As part of a national investigation that uncovered more than a thousand deaths after officers used physical force or weapons that would not be lethal, reporters from the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism focused on Georgia and its mix of urban and rural areas. communities, examining data to understand how deaths occurred.

The report, prepared in collaboration with The Associated Press and covering 2012 through 2021, identified 30 people who died in Georgia after police used “less lethal force.” In total, 26 of these non-shooting deaths involved people being restrained face down, in what is known as the prone position. In more than 80% of prone restraint cases, police reports, video or other documents show officers applying body weight or pressure to the person’s back or neck.

The federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by Arreola’s family found that Aguilar and Dudley were instructed on the use of force by Columbus Police Department personnel, which contradicted the agency’s own policies.

Beginning six years before Arreola’s death, Georgia’s statewide basic training program required officers to become aware of positional asphyxia, which occurs when compression of a person’s torso by weight on the back or neck hinders breathing. Obesity, heart disease and drug use increase vulnerability.

The solution is to remove someone from their chest once they are handcuffed, either by rolling them to the side or standing them upright.

Aguilar said in a statement before the lawsuit that it was necessary for him, Dudley and a third officer to keep their body weight on Arreola’s back after he was handcuffed because of the intensity of his resistance.

“And by him talking and being able to say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ I indicated several times that he was breathing just fine,” Aguilar said. “Because if he had enough breath to say it, he had enough breath to breathe.”

Police experts say this is a dangerous misconception. In order to speak, air must only reach the throat. To inhale breath, it must go all the way into the lungs.

When Lt. Tim Wynn, the department’s training director, was asked in his statement whether officers were trained to consider yelling and screaming as an indication that a suspect was breathing, Wynn said, “I agree.”

Wynn also said officers learned it was appropriate to apply pressure to the back of a struggling suspect after they were handcuffed. “That would be consistent with the guidelines of what we teach,” he said.

Columbus Police Chief Richard Boren disputed both men in his own statement. “That’s not taught in the Columbus Police Department,” Boren said.

Boren said that if someone complained about not being able to breathe, city training in 2016 and 2017 called for police to keep an eye on the person and that “as soon as a person complied, he turned over and sat up and we also would contact the ambulance service. and ensure ambulances are on the way to deal with any medical problem.

Police training in Georgia is a patchwork. The state established a minimum of 408 hours of basic training for all officers in 2006 and has not changed it since.

“We’re unleashing people on the public who have had 408 hours of training,” said Louis Dekmar, the longtime LaGrange police chief who retired in February after 50 years in Georgia law enforcement at the state and local level. This gives the training officers “the ability to take away their children, deprive them of their liberty and use force if they resist,” he said. “And we do that with 408 hours? Are you joking?”

Individual departments may require more training and may send officers for additional state training.

But Glyn Corbitt, who teaches a crisis intervention course at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, says not all agencies can afford to do that. “If you have a small agency,” he said, “and there are only six officers — and that includes the chief — it would be almost impossible to get someone to go away for 40 hours.”

Sergeant Adam Celinski was working in one of those small departments in southwest Georgia the night he got a call on Oct. 18, 2016, about a stranger banging on the front door of a Sylvester home.

Celinski found Terrell “Al” Clark, who said he was high on the “powder,” outside the house. The officer handcuffed Clark, 47. When he began to struggle, Celinski placed Clark face down on the ground with his hands behind him and Celinski’s knee on his back.

As Celinski and another officer waited for emergency medical services to arrive, Clark’s breathing became shallow and he became unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

An autopsy determined Clark’s death was an accident due to “acute cocaine intoxication combined with hypertensive cardiovascular disease.”

Celinski, now a lieutenant in the Worth County Sheriff’s Office drug investigation unit, told the Howard Center that having Clark sit up “probably would have helped the situation.”

Although the Georgia Public Safety Training Center could not document exactly what Celinski learned as a recruit in 2013, the basic training leader said positional choking was part of his curriculum, and instructors were required to confirm that graduates understood it.

Celinski said that when he was learning to become an officer, there was “barely any” training on the dangers of keeping suspects face down, especially those who were using drugs. “Actually, it just wasn’t there,” he said.


Contributors from the Howard Center included Winter Hawk, Abbi Ross, Paige Maizes, Aiesha Solomon, Nyrene Monforte, Evan Hecht, Mario Morais and Angelique Gingras; Martha Bellisle of The Associated Press also contributed.