This question was sent to me via e-mail by a reader. In light of the recent choke hold death of Eric Garner that involved police, I thought it would be interesting to cover it here from a police training perspective so I’ve invited just such a person to handle this question. This information will be split over three posts.
Today is Part I.
I came across your website when searching out forensics for my novel and wondered if you might be able to assist me.
I am writing a contemporary spy thriller set in the UK. In my spy thriller my protagonist is escaping the police and wants to knock one of them out. But he is a good guy and the police aren’t the baddies in the piece, they’ve just got in the way. So he has no desire to do permanent damage to the cop.
In Hollywood, a blow to the head is enough but I know that in reality there is no guarantee that this will render someone unconscious and is just as likely to cause brain injury. Other techniques in films are choke holds and striking certain nerves in the neck.
My question: Are either of these options really feasible? If my character was ex-special forces would he be able to choke someone just long enough to make them lose consciousness while avoiding starving the brain of oxygen and thus causing brain damage?
Similarly, are there any nerves or blood vessels that he could strike or cut off that would render the victim unconscious while avoiding serious harm? If the victim were struggling would this make a difference?
The answer to much of this is ‘yes’ there are several ways to temporarily incapacitate a person via choke hold, or a strike to one of several nerve centers.
What Hollywood generally gets wrong is how long this effect lasts. Hollywood will show a person getting “knocked out,” and there is time for the hero to drag the limp body off to a dark corner, or simply leave them behind where they fall and continue their mission, escape, etc.
The truth is, many of these techniques will merely stun a person, and rarely knock them out. Either way, the effects only last for a few seconds, even if the person is knocked unconscious. In law enforcement, when we train with these techniques, the general rule of thumb is that the technique must be followed with handcuffing, or another approved restraint technique.
If a police officer has legal justification to apply a “choking” restraint against a person, or if we strike one of the nerve centers with a goal of stunning them, the same officer will generally have enough cause to arrest that person as well. But the main reason for the restraints is because the cop doesn’t want the attacker to simply get up a few seconds later and continue the attack.
One of the best examples I can give you is the very real world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Watching this sport on television demonstrates my point perfectly. The fighter who gets incapacitated, knocked out with a punch, or choke hold generally gets up within just a few seconds. Generally, he wants to continue the fight even though they have actually just lost the fight and may not even realize it.
It’s as if the fighter’s brain has been paused as a result of being temporarily stunned from the knockout punch and as soon as the PLAY button is pressed, the fighter’s brain and body want to start where they left off, which was in the middle of a fight. This is why you will often see the referee having to restrain the fighter who was just knocked out and explain to them, “Dude, you just lost. You got knocked out.” This sometimes takes a few moments to sink in with the recently knocked out fighter.
They are still overcoming the effects of the being knocked out. Their brain is still trying to catch up. They don’t remember falling to the canvas like a sack of bricks. Sometimes the fighter falls and his hands are still up in a fighting position, but his eyes are staring off into space. But they still get up after only a few seconds and they are very capable of continuing the fight, but the rules of MMA prevent this. There are no rules on the street and a police officer must take into account that the person will continue the fight unless something is done to prevent it.
We’ll continue with Part II on Thursday.
Deputy Karl Mai is a 16 year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado Springs, CO. He has mostly worked street patrol and as a Field Training Officer (FTO), but has also worked in the county jail and as a Detective.