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NYC police unions file lawsuit over 'diaphragm law'

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at City Hall in New York. Credit: AP/Bebeto Matthews

A group of more than a dozen police unions, including the Police Benevolent Association of New York, filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the so-called “diaphragm“ law, a city measure which bars NYPD officers from sitting or pressing their knee on the backs of someone in a way that constricts the diaphragm.

In a 24-page complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan State Supreme Court, the unions argue that the diaphragm measure — part of the anti-chokehold law signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in July — is preempted by the earlier state anti-chokehold statute — which doesn’t have a diaphragm section. The city law should be void because it is too vague, according to the complaint.

The unions are asking for an injunction and a finding by the court that diaphragm section is invalid and unenforceable under state law.

“The Mayor and the city Council took a big gamble with this law... It is pure politics,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for the union coalition. “They are gambling with the safety of citizens, the safety of our police officers and interfering with the ability of our police to make lawful arrests.”

A spokesman for the New York City Law Department said Thursday that the lawsuit was being reviewed and had no further comment.

Under the law passed by the City Council, officers could be subject to prosecution for a misdemeanor if in the course of arresting a suspect they constrict a person’s diaphragm in the ensuing struggle.  Prohibited conduct would be sitting, knelling or standing on a suspect so as to compress the diaphragm, according to the statute. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

According to the complaint, the city measure has been roundly criticized by local district attorneys and law enforcement experts.  Their view is the New York City law is preempted by the state anti-chokehold statute and imposes a strict criminal liability for officers regardless of their intent, the complaint alleges.

Concern among police agencies about the potential impact of the diaphragm law has prompted some departments in nearby counties — including Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk — to either order their cops not to pursue suspects into New York City or only do so with appropriate supervision.

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