The Sandoval County Commission has been asked to approve the Sheriff Department’s policy regarding appropriate use of deadly force. The commission was to consider the sheriff’s updates at its August 19 session. The revisions come at a time of heightened scrutiny given high-profile policing abuses nationwide. The policy updates were presented by Captain Allen Mills who explained that  the document will institute guidelines for the use of deadly and non-deadly force. An introduction to the policy statements  stresses that  “deputies use only the force necessary to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the lives of the deputy and others and while accomplishing lawful objectives. It must be stressed that the use of force is not left to the unfettered discretion of the involved deputies. The use of force must be objectively reasonable.”

It makes clear that “deputies may use deadly force only under a reasonable belief that the action is in defense of human life, including the deputy’s life, or in defense of the life of any person in imminent danger of serious physical injury. “To prevent the escape of a fleeing felon who the officer has probable cause to believe poses an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officer or others.” In addition, “where deadly force is not appropriate, deputies may use only that level of force that is objectively reasonable to bring an incident under control, and are authorized to use department-approved, less-lethal force techniques, issued equipment, and canines to achieve the legitimate, lawful objectives of their duties.”

The policy gives added attention to what officers should do when confronted by someone who is agitated or behaving erratically, referred to as excited delirium, which is defined as “a descriptive phrase used by medical researchers to describe the extreme end of a continuum of drug abuse effects, which normally manifests itself as violent behavior in an individual, who is likely to act in a bizarre and manic way.“ It also addresses the use of choke holds such as the restraining technique that led to the death of George Floyd.

 But the policy makes clear that “the reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable deputy on scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must allow for the fact that deputies must make split‐second decisions in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.

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Below are the general guidelines for Sandoval County deputies’ use of force.

  1. Deputies shall utilize verbal advisements, warnings, and/or persuasion when giving arrest commands or other lawful orders, and shall allow a person an opportunity to comply before using force, except when issuing the warning would place the safety of the deputy or another person in jeopardy.
  2. Deputies shall employ defensive and control techniques including the use of Sheriff's Office issued/approved equipment and devices.
  3. Deputies shall use sound judgment and tactics such as requesting back up, calling for a specialized unit or disengagement and area containment to prevent unnecessary confrontation, when possible.
  4. Deputies shall de-escalate or cease the use of force as resistance de-escalates or ceases, or when the intended objective has been accomplished. Deputies shall not escalate situations and they shall use appropriate de-escalation techniques, including verbal techniques.
  5. Force shall never be used with intent to subject a person to torture and/or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.
  6. Deputies shall not utilize physical impact techniques or chemical agents against a mechanically restrained (e.g., handcuffed) person, except as is objectively reasonable to prevent imminent bodily harm to the deputy or another.
  7. Physical control techniques may be used to overcome resistance when movement or restraint of the person is necessary.
  8. Choke holds, a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, or any physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, for the purposes of incapacitation, is prohibited, except in those situations where the use of deadly force is permitted. [Executive Order 13929]
  9. Discharging a firearm into an aircraft and motor vehicle is prohibited.
  10. Deputies are not required to desist in their lawful efforts to make lawful arrests when resistance is encountered.
  11. Deputies are not required to retreat from situations and may use reasonable force when at risk of physical injury, but are always required use only appropriate and lawful force.
  12. Deputies shall file relevant charges against a known person for their aggressive actions or resistance when force has been used in response to that resistance or aggression.
  13. Deputies shall not unreasonably or unnecessarily endanger themselves or the public when applying this policy.
  14. Deputies shall provide or request medical care for the subject following the use of any force, regardless of complaint of injury.
  15. Deputies shall detain and transport individuals to the appropriate facility when taking a person into protective custody, and consistent with local, state and federal laws.
  16. Each use of force application must be reasonable and separately justified based on the objectively reasonable standard.
  17. Objectively Reasonable Standard
  18. The legal standard used to determine if a deputy's actions (force) was reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances known to the deputy at the time the force was used and lawfully based on the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)].
  19. Factors that require careful consideration before a Deputy can use force against a suspect include but are not limited to:
  20. Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the deputy or others
  21. The severity of the crime
  22. Whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest
  23. Whether the suspect is a flight risk or attempting to escape custody
  24. The reasonableness of a particular use of force shall be judged from the perspective of a reasonable deputy on scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
  25. The calculus of reasonableness shall allow for the fact that deputies must make split‐second decisions in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.
  26. Totality of the Circumstances
  27. Totality of the circumstances refers to all factors existing in each individual case. In addition to those listed in subsection B. 2, these factors may include but are not limited to:
  28. The training, mental attitude, age, size and strength of the deputy
  29. The training, mental attitude, age, size and strength of the subject
  30. The weapon(s) involved
  31. The presence of other deputies/officers, subjects or bystanders
  32. Environmental conditions
  33. Use of Deadly Force
  34. Deputies are authorized to use deadly force, to:
  35. Protect their own lives and the lives of others from what is reasonably believed to be an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm, or
  36. To prevent the escape of a fleeing felon who the officer has probable cause to believe poses an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officer or others. [Tennessee v. Garner, 771 U.S. 1 (1985)].
  37. When practical, prior to discharge of the firearm, the deputy(s) shall identify themselves as law enforcement officers and state their intent to use deadly force, except when issuing the warning would place the safety of the deputy or another person in jeopardy.
  38. Imminent threat may exist if a deputy reasonably believes any of the following:
  39. The person has a weapon or is attempting to access one and it is reasonable to believe the person intends to use it against the deputy or another.
  40. The person is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death without a weapon and it is reasonable to believe the person intends to do so.
  41. Deadly force is that degree of force which is reasonably likely to cause death or great bodily harm. The use of the following use of force options may result in death or great bodily harm:
  42. Baton (Striking head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, kidneys, etc.)
  43. Firearms
  44. Vehicle Contact
  45. Road Blocks; Refer to SCSO Policy OPR: 08 Vehicular Pursuit policy for further
  46. Weapons of opportunity or any use of force option as outlined in this policy which can result in death or great bodily harm.
  47. When the use of deadly force would be objectively reasonable, deputies are not required to attempt to first use or exhaust non‐deadly force and control options.
  48. Deadly Force Restrictions
  49. Warning shots are prohibited
  50. Discharging shots into a crowd
  51. Use of deadly force to prevent someone from committing suicide except when that person poses an immediate threat to the deputy or others.
  52. Discharging a firearm at or from a moving vehicle is prohibited except where the Deputy reasonably believes:
  53. A vehicle is operated in a manner deliberately intended to strike a deputy or a citizen and all other reasonable means of defense have been exhausted, are not present, or not practical, including moving out of the path of the vehicle, and the safety of innocent persons would not be unduly jeopardized by the deputy’s actions.
  54. Chokeholds, a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, or any physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, for the purposes of incapacitation, is prohibited, except in those situations where the use of deadly force is permitted. [Executive Order 13929]
  55. Any employee whose actions or use of force results in a death or great bodily harm shall be removed from the line of duty assignment, pending an administrative review, for a duration to be determined by the Sheriff or designee.
  56. Deadly Force- Dangerous Animals and Injured Animals
  57. Deputies may use deadly force to destroy an animal that presents a threat to public safety, or
  58. As a humanitarian measure where the animal is seriously injured and only when the deputy reasonably believes that deadly force can be used without harm to the deputy, or others.
  59. Deadly Force- Suicidal Persons(s)
  60. Use of deadly force to prevent someone from committing suicide is prohibited except when that person(s) poses an immediate threat of great bodily harm and/or death to the deputy or others.
  61. Use of Less-Lethal Force
  62. Where deadly force is not appropriate, deputies may use only that level of force that is objectively reasonable to bring an incident under control.
  63. Deputies are authorized to use department-approved, less-lethal force techniques, issued equipment and canines to achieve the legitimate, lawful objectives of their duties.
  64. Deputies shall use less-lethal force when objectively reasonable and based on a totality of the circumstances and information known to the deputy at the time the force is used in response to resistance or aggression, or to achieve legitimate, lawful objectives which may include but is not limited to:
  65. To defend themselves or others from the use, or imminent use, of physical force;
  66. To affect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person whom the deputy has probable cause to believe has committed an offense;
  67. To take persons into protective custody when authorized by law, such as those who are a danger to themselves or others, pursuant to 43‐1‐10 NMSA 1978 and/or persons incapacitated by intoxication, pursuant to 43‐2‐8 NMSA 1978;
  68. To prevent someone from committing suicide or inflicting great bodily harm upon themselves;
  69. To separate combatants, to move a person in an emergency situation and to overcome passive or active resistance to a lawful order.
  70. To protect someone from harming themselves who is not suicidal, for example an intoxicated person who is stumbling into traffic and not able to take reasonable precautions for one’s safety.
  71. Choke holds, a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, or any physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, for the purposes of incapacitation, is prohibited, except in those situations where the use of deadly force is permitted. [Executive Order 13929]
  72. When the objective is to place a person in physical custody pursuant to a lawful arrest, the deputy shall advise the person that they are under arrest prior to the application of force unless an exigent circumstance would prevent doing so.
  73. Use of Force - Protective Custody and Community Caretaker Function
  74. A deputy may detain and transport a person for emergency mental health evaluation and care in the absence of a legally valid order from the court and without consent of the individual when:
  75. The deputy has reasonable grounds to believe the person has just attempted suicide;
  76. The deputy, based upon their own observation and investigation, has reasonable grounds to believe that the person, as the result of a mental health disorder, presents a likelihood of serious harm to themselves or others and that immediate detention is necessary to prevent such harm.
  77. A deputy may detain and transport an intoxicated person for protective custody when the deputy has probable cause to believe that the person to be committed:
  78. Is disorderly in a public place;
  79. Is unable to care for the person’s own safety
  80. Has threatened, attempted or inflicted physical harm on themselves or another;
  81. Has threatened, attempted or inflicted damage to the property of another;
  82. Is likely to inflict serous physical harm on themselves
  83. Is likely to inflict serious physical harm on another; and/or
  84. Is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.
  85. This section is in accordance with §43-1-10, Emergency Mental Health Evaluation and Care, NMSA 1978 and §43-2-8, Protective Custody, NMSA 1978
  86. Medical Care
  87. Medical care shall be provided or requested for the subject following the use of any force.
  88. The subject who received force shall be offered medical care regardless of their complaint of injury or not, and may decline care to a health care provider or emergency medical technician only.
  89. A deputy may not accept a refusal of medical care from the subject who received force.
  90. A person detained and transported pursuant to part F of this section, shall whenever possible, be taken immediately to an evaluation facility. Detention facilities shall be used as temporary shelter for those persons only in an extreme emergency for protective custody in accordance with NMSA 43-1-10 (D).
  91. Unreasonable force is prohibited.
  92. Any employee including commissioned or non-commissioned employees present and observing another deputy using force that is clearly beyond that which is reasonable under the circumstances shall, intercede to prevent the continuation of unreasonable force.
  93. Any employee including commissioned or non-commissioned employees who observes another employee use force that they believe exceeded the degree of force permitted by law shall report these observations to a supervisor as soon as possible.
  94. The reasonableness of a particular use of force shall be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vison of hindsight. [Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)]
  95. The calculus of reasonableness must allow for the fact that deputies are forced to make split- second judgements in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving- about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. [Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)]
  96. Reserved

Weapons, Equipment, Tactics and Techniques

  1. Verbal Commands
  2. Verbal direction is not necessarily considered an application of force. It shall be the goal of the deputy to generate voluntary compliance in an effort to avoid using force.
  3. Empty Hands Techniques
  4. Empty Hands Techniques include but are not limited to: escort positions, distraction techniques, compliance holds, leverage takedowns, impact takedowns, and ground control techniques.
  5. Choke holds, a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, or any physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, for the purposes of
  6. Less Lethal Weapons
  7. Less lethal weapons has the potential for causing tissue damage, but a low potential of resulting in great bodily harm when used properly.
  8. Less lethal weapons include, but are not limited to: chemical agents, electronic control devices (ECD), department approved expandable baton, straight baton, riot baton, canine, weapons of opportunity, or vehicles.
  9. When a weapon is not available, a weaponless technique that involves blunt trauma may be used. The most common weaponless techniques include but is not limited to: elbow strikes, hand strikes, knee strikes, and foot kicks.
  10. Chemical Agents
  11. Oleoresin Capsicum (OC Spray) or similar agent may be used as a weapon to subdue an unarmed attacker or to overcome resistance likely to result in injury to the officer or others. OC spray or similar agent is not designed to replace the baton or the firearm.
  12. Deputies must remember that OC spray is sometimes ineffective when used against drugged, extremely intoxicated, or enraged person.
  13. The deputy who uses OC spray against a suspect is responsible for ensuring that the suspect receives first aid and/or medical treatment.
  14. Electronic Control Devices (ECD- Taser)
  15. An ECD may be used against persons who are actively resisting or exhibiting active aggression or to prevent individuals from harming themselves or others.
  16. When practical, the use of an ECD shall be preceded by a verbal warning that force shall be used if compliance is not obtained.
  17. Elevated ECD Application Risk Factors – The following factors, where apparent to involved deputies, require elevated justification of ECD application. Under the following conditions, the risks of foreseeable direct or secondary injuries to the person are foreseeably elevated. Therefore, deputies’ justification(s) for ECD application are also elevated. These evaluated risk factors can only be given consideration when the factors are reasonably perceived by the deputy(s). In less-lethal force situations, when possible, deputies should avoid using the ECD on:
  18. Persons operating a moving vehicle or machinery.
  19. In any environment where the subject’s fall could reasonably result in death, such as in an elevated structure or in water.
  20. Obviously pregnant female.
  21. Persons with apparent debilitating illnesses or the elderly.
  22. Children or persons under eighty (80) pounds.
  23. Persons in wheelchairs.
  24. Persons with pacemakers or other bio-medical devices sensitive to electrical current.
  25. On subjects who are passively resisting.
  26. On a handcuffed or secured prisoner, absent overtly assaultive, overtly resistive, or fleeing behavior (i.e. stiffening up like a board, kicking, head butting, etc.) that cannot be reasonably dealt with less intrusively. It is prohibited to taze a handcuffed or secured suspect.
  27. ECDs shall not be used in the following circumstances:
  28. In a punitive manner,
  29. On cooperative subjects,
  30. In any environment where a deputy knows that a potentially flammable, volatile, or explosive material is present (including, but not limited to: OC spray with volatile propellant, methamphetamine lab, gasoline, natural gas, or propane), and/or
  31. From, or at, moving vehicles.
  32. ECD Carrying and Storage

The device shall be carried in an approved holster on the side of the body opposite to the service handgun.

The device shall be carried fully armed with the safety on in preparation for immediate use, when authorized

  1. Weapons of Opportunity
  2. Should a confrontation suddenly escalate and a deputy has no time to draw and/or use a department approved weapon to defend the deputy’s self or others, the deputy may use any object at hand for defense or control, provided that the use of force is reasonable, given the existing circumstances.
  3. Choke holds, a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, or any physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe, for the purposes of incapacitation, is prohibited, except in those situations where the use of deadly force is permitted. [Executive Order 13929]

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  1. Training
  2. 1. The Sandoval County Sheriff, shall ensure that all agency personnel authorized to carry weapons comply with the following guidelines:
  3. On an annual basis, shall receive in-service training on the department’s use of force policies and demonstrate proficiency with all approved lethal weapons and electronic control devices which the employee is authorized to carry.
  4. The above-listed training shall be accomplished during any phase of firearms qualifications, at which time every employee shall sign for receipt of a copy of this policy and their attendance/participation in the in-service training, attachment 2.
  5. Receive in-service training for other less-lethal weapons and weaponless control techniques every two (2) years.
  6. All documentation from the training shall be forwarded to the deputy assigned as the Training Coordinator for the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office.
  7. The Training Coordinator shall provide written documentation regarding any agency personnel who fail to receive the above-described training describing the circumstances why the employee(s) was unable to meet the requirements. This documentation shall be forwarded to the Sheriff or their designee no later than November 1st of the year in which the training is to be completed.

f.

  1. H. Remedial

All proficiency training is monitored by a certified weapons or tactics instructor.

Training and proficiency is documented.

Those employees unable to demonstrate proficiency with authorized lethal and less lethal weapons shall receive remedial training and must qualify with those weapons prior to resuming official duties.

All agency personnel authorized to carry lethal and less-lethal weapons receive copies of, and instruction on, the department use of force policy prior to being authorized to carry a weapon. The instruction and issuance of the department use of force policy shall be documented and maintained in the employee’s training record.

In addition to training required for firearms qualification, deputies shall receive agency-authorized training designed to simulate actual shooting situations and conditions, as otherwise necessary, to enhance deputy discretion and judgment in using deadly and less-lethal force in accordance with this policy.

Deputies shall receive training on recognizing signs and symptoms of excited delirium during the ECD certification training as well as receiving any updated information concerning this condition during the annual use of force training.

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