Choke hold violated man's rights, justices rule

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Police violated a man's constitutional protection rights when officers grabbed him by the throat and squeezed to stop him from swallowing a plastic baggie of cocaine, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

Justices issued a unanimous opinion Thursday in John Grier v. State of Indiana, No. 49S05-0702-CR-68. The Marion Superior case involved a traffic stop in August 2005, when officers stopped Grier for having an expired license plate. He was gagging after being ordered out of the car, and when he opened his mouth on command, officers noticed a clear plastic bag inside.

He refused to spit it out, so an officer grabbed his throat and applied enough pressure to stop it from being swallowed. After about 20 seconds, Grier spit it out onto the sidewalk and was subsequently charged with possession of cocaine.

Claiming his privacy rights had been violated, Grier moved to suppress the bag and its contents as evidence. The trial court denied the request, but certified the question for the appellate courts. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's ruling in October, holding that the officer's actions "did not rise to the level of abuse or torture contemplated by the prohibition of 'unnecessary rigor' in our constitution."

However, justices disagreed in Thursday's ruling, relying on Conwell v. State, 714 N.E.2d 764 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) that held a police choke hold in a similar situation "invaded the person's bodily integrity, posed great health and safety risks, and was likely to incite violent resistance."

Author Justice Brent Dickson wrote, "The court held that preservation of evidence did not justify 'the use of such violent and dangerous means.' The application of force to a detainee's throat to prevent swallowing of suspected contraband violates the constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure."

The court reverses the denial of Grier's motion to suppress and remands the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

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