An article out of Houston describing the death of a 24 year-old following an altercation delves into the topic of positional asphyxia and the choke. There’s a short minute video where you can see the victim being held to the ground by another person. The cause of death is being ruled as “anoxic encephalopathy due to strangulation with chest compression” (i.e., positional asphyxia).
As Jay has noted, positional asphyxia is a concern when attempting to restrain someone:
Could this kill them? Not if applied and followed up on properly. If applied correctly pressure is put the sides of the neck leaving the airway unaffected. It is only applied for 10-15 seconds making the risk of brain damage negligible. If the subject is placed carefully on the ground there is no risk of secondary injury due to falling. If the subject is checked post application, there is no risk of airway obstruction or aspiration (intoxicated subjects have been known to vomit during confrontations/agitation). If unable to place in handcuffs prior to regaining consciousness, the subject is placed in a restraint position that does not put pressure on the chest removing the danger of positional asphyxia (positional asphyxia is a common cause of in-custody restraint related deaths. It is when pressure is applied to the chest without pause for 3 minutes or more preventing inhalation. This causes the body to use all of the oxygen currently in the bloodstream and effectively “choking” them to death).
Similarly on an episode of the podcast last year, Jay discussed the issue of positional asphyxia, and how it often occurs with a person having been choked unconscious being held down by several people, thereby preventing that person from breathing:
In the video of the man in Houston we don’t see a lot of what happens. It’s only a minute long, and about half of it is filled with people trying to prevent the person from filming because, as they say, it’s illegal (which isn’t true, and only furthers what most people should know: don’t take legal advice from people hanging out at a Denny’s late at night).
Anyways, what we do see in the video is the victim face down on the ground with another person on top of them with their arm around the victim’s neck. The victim is still moving, seemingly he is struggling. Not necessarily conclusive of what happened, but that, coupled with the cause of death, suggests either a misapplied choke, or a situation where the manner in which a person was restrained caused the death.
What does this all mean? As Jay noted in the above podcast episode, you can’t just learn a choke once and think you can use it haphazardly without concern (I am paraphrasing a bit). More importantly, the issue isn’t the tool; it’s the application. In other words, the choke and restraining someone is not necessarily the issue, but rather how you choke and restrain someone. And that highlights the importance of training to properly apply and use those techniques.