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New Position on Positional Asphyxia

NCJ Number
Date Published
1 page

This article discusses recent court outcomes regarding the reasonableness of restraint methods used by police officers.


Positional asphyxia has been correlated with “in-custody sudden death.” Research conducted by Dr. Reay, the Chief Medical Examiner for King County, WA, indicated that positional asphyxia might be caused by physically restraining suspects in a “hogtie restraint.” However, in a unlawful death case in San Diego County, defense attorneys commissioned their own study examining whether the use of particular types of restraints, such as the hogtie or hobble restraints, could result in respiratory dysfunction and potentially lead to death. This new study found that Dr. Reay’s original study was flawed and that the use of restraints does not in itself amount to unlawful force and is unlikely to cause asphyxia. The court, as well as Dr. Reay, agreed with these new findings. Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to analyze current department policies on the control and restraint of resisting individuals in light of these new findings. Contact information is provided to learn more about this topic.

Date Published: January 1, 1998