When police defense attorney Mildred O'Linn teaches a course on Critical Legal Issues in Law Enforcement, she urges her audiences to adopt a risk-management concept she calls the Custody and Care Timeline.
It's a method for officers to capture and document critical information when dealing with combative suspects who may be especially vulnerable to arrest-related or in-custody deaths.
That includes those who are morbidly obese, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, mentally ill, in the throes of excited delirium, or subject to a high level of physical exertion while battling the police hand-to-hand.
"When a death occurs during or immediately after an arrest-related struggle with such a resistant person, there's typically a lot of information missing," says O'Linn, a partner with the Los Angeles law firm Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP.
"Officers don't know or can't remember how long the fight lasted, how long the subject was down and handcuffed, when exactly the arrestee stopped breathing, and so on.
This makes the officers' actions more difficult to defend in court because they appear negligent, indifferent, or unprofessional.
"In the death cases I've handled I would have given my left arm--and I'm left-handed--to have an established timeline of events to use to defend my officers."
The remedy, O'Linn
believes, is to create what she
calls "Motorola memory"--a recorded, time-coded thread of radio communication from the scene to dispatch that documents time markers during the contact.
The transmissions may be handled by a first responder, a supervisor, or someone else designated to take responsibility for monitoring and documenting the incident.
"Using radio transmissions to create a timeline simplifies the process," O'Linn
told Force Science News
"With that kind of record," O'Linn
says, "we bring greater precision to circumstances where we typically have conflict and confusion over what happened and when--in particular, things like how long the subject was proned out, how long officers were on top of the suspect, when the suspect was handcuffed, when they stopped struggling or breathing, when CPR was started, etc.
"Keying your mic and chronicling an audio 'custody and care' record as events unfold is much better in terms of accuracy and credibility than trying to compose a 'guesstimated' timeline from memory in a written report.
It's amazing what officers don't remember afterward, and sometimes what they claim to remember is very distorted and inaccurate."
suggests that after a subject is controlled, he
should continue to be closely monitored, and the verbal log should be continued up to the point that he
is turned over to medical personnel.
advises, the timeline should be used in conjunction with well-practiced tactics for containing and controlling potentially vulnerable individuals.
For more information on Atty. O'Linn's training on the legal aspects of using force, contact her at: MKO@manningllp.com.
is scheduled to attend the certification course in Force Science Analysis, scheduled for Dec. 9-13, 2013 in Las Vegas.