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Spokane police will limit controversial knee-to-neck technique; some protesters say it was employed on them last weekend

UPDATED: Sat., June 6, 2020

A video of Spokane police arrested Andrea “Drea” Rose Gallardo, a prominent Native American activist and Spokane Tribe member, on Sunday in downtown Spokane has been viewed thousands of times and sparked further controversy about the knee-to-neck maneuver. (Facebook)
A video of Spokane police arrested Andrea “Drea” Rose Gallardo, a prominent Native American activist and Spokane Tribe member, on Sunday in downtown Spokane has been viewed thousands of times and sparked further controversy about the knee-to-neck maneuver. (Facebook)

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl told The Spokesman-Review this week his department will limit when officers can employ a controversial technique for detaining suspects by kneeling on their necks, which was used in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We are transitioning it to what is called an exceptional technique,” Meidl wrote in a text message. “This means officers need exceptional reasons if they do this and it will have to be justified at a much higher level.”

He did not immediately respond to a follow-up question by text asking him to clarify what “exceptional reasons” might include. The change in policy follows the apparent use of the technique on at least two protesters who were detained in last Sunday’s protests in downtown Spokane.

“What are the chances that the first two we bail out the first night both experienced that knee-to-neck maneuver?” said Sabrina Ryan-Helton, who helped bail out those protesterson behalf of the Spokane branch of the Bail Project, a national nonprofit organization.

Andrea “Drea” Rose Gallardo, a prominent local Native American activist, was one of those first two protesters bailed out.

Footage of Gallardo’s arrest has racked up tens of thousands of views on Facebook. It shows Gallardo – 5-foot-2 and 125 pounds, according to arrest records – standing in a fog of tear gas and addressing officers before they tackle her.

Meidl said Friday he had not seen the video of Gallardo’s arrest, but acknowledged officers may have put their knee on her neck.

In a statement this week, the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission said its trainers do not teach law enforcement officers to place their knee on someone’s neck while restraining them. The commission also stated that it would, starting now, direct instructors to explicitly state to students that placing pressure on a person’s neck with a knee “is deadly and should never be done unless the situation clearly warrants the use of deadly force.”

In the wake of that statement, Meidl said a training bulletin is “being crafted now.” He sent out an email within the police department this week saying that placing a knee on the neck is “now prohibited, it’s an exceptional technique” under the training commission’s standards.

“Up until this directive went out, there’s no policy violation,” Meidl said.

Moments before her arrest, Gallardo said she’d been kneeling with protesters who raised their hands and said, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” at about 7:30 p.m. on Howard Street, between Riverside and Main avenues. She had put down her bag, which was filled partly with ceremonial prayer objects.

In the chaos of hissing tear gas, she said others scattered fast while she gathered her things, including a drum and traditional feather fan. By the time she stood up, she’d lost her friends.

“I got stuck in the crossfire,” she said.

When the viral video starts, Gallardo is standing. She’s holding her drum and walking past police before she turns to speak to them. Police use a baton and their hands to gesture for her to leave. She lingers, confused, she said. The frame moves to focus on smoke billowing from a nearby tear gas canister for about a second and a half.

Gallardo then runs back into the frame with a police officer reaching for her from behind. He wrestles with her. Three more officers run up, then two more.

They lower her toward a cloud of tear gas. Three officers appear to kneel over her, pressing against her neck, she said, and handcuff her.

Off camera, a man’s voice repeats the phrase, “Oh my God.” The camera pans to an officer who faces the Wild Dawgs restaurant patio holding a rifle with a scope.

When the camera pans back to Gallardo, two of the officers are standing again and she sits up.

She said the interaction seen but not heard in the video started when she told an officer, “You didn’t have to shoot us. We have a right to peaceful protest.”

He said, “Just go,” according to her account.

“I can’t go into the smoke, there’s nowhere for me to go,” Gallardo said she told police, with some desperation.

Then they tackled her into the tear gas, she said.

“They pushed me toward a can of it,” she said. “One of the officers had his knee in the back of my neck and I had to yell, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ ”

She heard another of the officers say, “Get off of her,” she said, and felt the pressure released from her neck.

“I started pleading, ‘There’s my drum, my drum, my drum,’ ” she said. “And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll make sure you get it.’ ”

She said she didn’t get her drum back and that when she was released from jail early the next morning, she found the ceremonial feather fan in her bag broken in half. She believes holding her drum made her more of a target, and she can’t imagine police tackling a white woman of her size and stature.

As she left the jail, she met Joseff Pentico, a white man who was the other protester the Bail Project posted bail for that night. He said he’d been tackled and an officer kneeled on his neck at some time between 9:30 and 10:30 on Bernard Street, next to Suki Yaki Inn.

Pentico posted on Facebook this week in hopes someone has footage of his arrest. He’s also posted photos of bruising and abrasions on his face.

Like Gallardo, he said he stalled when police deployed tear gas canisters. After nightfall on Washington Street, he said he joined protesters in kneeling with their hands in the air. Police told them to disperse and move to the sidewalks, and protesters did move to sidewalks, kneeling again, according to Pentico.

“A tear gas thing explodes right next to me. Everybody is freaking out trying to sprint back and we’re giving up. They’re going to persist with force,” Pentico said. “I tried not to run. I looked at the tear gas thing spewing off both sides and just tried to control my breathing.”

One officer passed by him, Pentico said, and immediately after, another tackled him.

“He grabbed me by the back and slammed – like literally forced my face into the cement,” Pentico said. “I still have a gash on my forehead and then a mark on the back of my head, right where my skull and neck meet, where he put his knee.”

Pentico said he heard another officer tell the man kneeling on his neck to get off, as Gallardo had heard, too.

Once he was handcuffed, Pentico said he and two officers had to wait on a street corner for some time. He said they stood in an awkward silence made chaotic by the sound of a helicopter, protesters chanting and guns going off.

Pentico decided to make a joke about a couple who passed by, saying they had no idea what was going on but just had to power through the chaos for their date-night meal.

Once the officers laughed, Pentico said they treated him well. The officer who Pentico said tackled him opened up about coming home to his wife.

“The guy I was talking to, he’d been an officer for 24 years, but from what I got, they both were quite scared,” Pentico said. “He said he has to come home and hear his wife’s stories about how he died that night in her dreams.

“The people behind the badges have families. And I think they were able to be like, ‘Oh, hey, maybe this one normal person is here, but you’re not like the rest.’ … I shouldn’t have had to be so polite and purposely try to turn them to earn that humanization, given that they’re the ones in power.”

Meidl said the police department is trying to learn from what happened last Sunday.

Police officials also felt understaffed last Sunday and will avoid the same situation this weekend, he said. The protest will bring support from the Washington National Guard, Washington State Patrol, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and Spokane County Detention Services. Law enforcement from Kootenai County may also provide assistance, according to Meidl.

Meidl declined to elaborate on what tactics Spokane police will use during Sunday’s protest.

Reporter Adam Shanks contributed to this report.

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