A video that circulated on social media appeared to show an officer restraining a man with a knee to the neck. (Examiner screenshot)

Chief moves to update use-of-force policy after video shows officer kneeling on man

Scott seeks to make ban on knee-to-neck restraint ‘crystal clear’ to rank and file

San Francisco’s top cop is working on a policy update to explicitly bar officers from using a knee-to-neck restraint after a video appeared to show an officer using the technique on a 19-year-old man.

Police Chief Bill Scott plans to issue a bulletin clarifying that officers are not allowed to apply pressure to the back of the neck during any type of physical hold, he told the Police Commission Wednesday.

If approved by the commission, the bulletin would add language to the San Francisco Police Department use-of-force policy expressly banning the technique.

“We want to be certain that officers know the importance of what is allowed and what is not and make that crystal clear,” Scott said.

Scott also said he would issue a notice addressing the current policy and update the department training manuals. The latter will require extensive review.

The news comes days after the San Francisco Examiner first reported on cellphone video Saturday that appeared to show an officer kneeling on the neck of a man in January in Hunters Point.

The man, Kajon Busby, was accused of resisting arrest and threatening his neighbor, but District Attorney Chesa Boudin dropped the charges against him Monday after viewing the video and taking a closer look into the evidence in the case.

While the officer only used her knee on Busby for a short period of time, the video drew comparisons to footage of now fired Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd in an incident that has sparked protests around the nation.

Busby is an African American man who works as a security guard.

Since the video emerged, Public Defender Manohar Raju and Supervisor Dean Preston have both called for policy changes. Preston also plans to hold a hearing related to the issue.

While the use-of-force policy bans any type of chokehold including the carotid restraint, it does not explicitly address using a “personal body weapon” like a knee on a suspect’s neck.

Scott said he intends to add language clarifying that “pressure to neck and throat applied during physical control or personal body weapons is also prohibited.”

Police Commission Vice President Damali Taylor said that the knee-to-neck restraint in question is currently banned under the policy.

But Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus said she needed clarification on the issue.

“It sounds like there is some type of interpretation or a gray area or a loophole in the use-of-force [policy],” DeJesus said.

DeJesus as well as commissioners Cindy Elias and John Hamasaki also expressed concerns that the chief had not heard about the incident until the video surfaced on social media.

“We never learn about these things until they are in the news,” Hamasaki said.

The commissioners questioned whether the restraint should be considered a reportable use-of-force.

Scott said the use of personal body weapons or control holds does have to be documented but not logged in a use-of-force report if there is no injury.

“I’m very concerned about the secondary review process and why again this wasn’t caught,” Elias said.

The case remains under investigation by internally as well as by the Department of Police Accountability.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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