Public Defender Manohar Raju holds up a sign at a rally at City Hall to commemorate George Floyd and other black people who have been killed by police on Monday, June 1, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF public defender urges police to explicitly bar technique used in George Floyd death

Public Defender Manohar Raju is calling for policy changes after a widely shared video of a San Francisco police officer kneeling on a suspect drew comparisons to footage of the death of George Floyd.

Raju urged Police Chief Bill Scott and the Police Commission to enact a policy that would bar officers from applying pressure to the neck or head of a suspect who is prone on the ground.

“This policy must be made explicit and take effect immediately,” Raju said Monday.

This comes after the San Francisco Examiner first reported on cellphone video Saturday that appeared to show a female officer kneeling on the neck of 19-year-old Kajon Busby in January.

Police later released body-worn camera footage of the arrest offering multiple angles of the incident that made it less clear whether the officer knelt on his neck or on his upper back.

While Busby told the Examiner that the officer knelt on his neck as several other cops restrained him, the police union has said that she used an authorized restraint on his shoulder blade.

On Monday, Raju argued the officer, now identified as Claudia Valle, “put pressure on Kajon’s neck and head for nearly a whole minute after he was cuffed.”

He also accused Valle and two other officers of misrepresenting the incident in police reports by leaving out the neck restraint or saying Valle used a restraint on his back.

“A massive overhaul of our policing system is needed, and it must be driven by the wisdom of the communities most impacted by systemic abuse,” Raju said. “The time for incremental reform in the SFPD has long passed.”

A police spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

The cellphone video was shared around social media Friday in light of the video of Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin using a similar tactic on Floyd. Protests against Floyd’s death and police brutality have since been held in hundreds of cities, including San Francisco over the weekend.

Banning the technique is among a number of requests from Raju for the police. He also called for the use of the use of “potentially deadly detention holds” to be considered misconduct that leads to immediate termination.

Under San Francisco Police Department policy, officers are currently barred from using chokeholds. But the use-of-force policy does not address using a knee on a suspect’s neck in plain language.

Police Commissioner John Hamasaki decried the technique used by the officer against Floyd.

“The use of the restraint that killed George Floyd is absolutely prohibited and any officer using it must be disciplined,” Hamasaki said. “There is no place in SFPD for these deadly tactics.”

Busby, a black teenager who works for a private company as a Muni yard security guard, appears have been held down with a knee for less than a minute and said he struggled to breathe.

He was booked into County Jail on Jan. 25, where he spent five nights on suspicion of criminal threats and resisting arrest after an alleged dispute with his neighbor. He is currently facing charges.

“I felt like I was going to die,” Busby said. “They need to change something about that because it’s killing.”

On Saturday, Scott said he ordered an administrative investigation into the incident.

He also asked the Department of Police Accountability for an independent investigation and SFPD personnel to determine if training updates were needed.

Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, previously said no injuries were reported in the arrest and no complaint was filed.

“Any attempt to equate this lawful action to the tragic death of George Floyd is disingenuous and appears aimed at inflaming the emotions of people as they are rightfully angry with Mr. Floyd’s death,” he said.

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