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Devices offer restraint alternatives

With arms flailing and legs kicking, it's obvious this man doesn't want to go quietly with police.

What's an officer to do?

After an eight-minute fight in Weber County, three deputies opted to hog-tie their combative suspect, and they came under the glare of public scrutiny because he later died.

Although a Utah medical examiner's report has concluded Glen Lutz's death last fall was due to a heart condition, the controversy regarding hog-tying is far from over.

Hog-tying, or total appendage restraint, involves handcuffing a person's wrists, restraining his legs by the ankles and then linking the two restraints together with a chain or strap. Some studies have said it can cause positional asphyxia if the person is placed on his stomach, causing in-custody deaths. Other studies have said the impairment to breathing is so slight it is not significant.

Amid the controversy, the method has long been used by agencies across the country to subdue out-of-control suspects who won't stop fighting.

South Salt Lake police, mindful of the studies and the controversies that have raged for decades, decided they could do without that kind of trouble.

Three years ago, they opted for a Body Guard.

Other agencies have turned to the Wrap.

Developed by two street cops in Walnut Creek, Calif., the idea behind the devices is to restrain a fighting person without risking positional asphyxia.

"We are doing the very same thing as hog-tying, but in a very, very high-tech way," said Paul Lefevour, sales manager for Safe Restraints Inc., which makes both restraint devices.

South Salt Lake police officer Darin Sweeten said his department has had the Body Guard for three years now. Each sergeant carries one in the trunk of his patrol car and there are a couple of extras in the office.

At about $500 each, the devices have more than paid for themselves in savings to patrol car windows and injuries to officers and suspects, Sweeten says.

"I wish we would have had it years ago," Sweeten said. "It would have saved a lot of windshields."

The restraint works on the same concept as hog-tying, but accomplishes immobilization of a suspect in a different manner.

With the Body Guard, a fighting person has his legs confined in a black nylon sleeve tightened by buckles. A shoulder harness is slipped over the suspect and a strap runs from the chest to the lower body area. The Wrap works in a similar fashion.

The result is a person who can't fight back, but who is upright and fairly comfortable, Sweeten said.

"They aren't getting out of it and it is a lot more dignified. It is very humane in a nondegrading way."

Officers like Sweeten who have used them on the street say they do the job.

"This thing works great," Wade Sanders said.

Lefevour said about 150 agencies across the country have turned to the two restraint devices since the products came out in the mid-1990s.

Now the challenge is letting departments know of the options available to them.

"Hog-tying has been the most-used method of dealing with very combative people for who knows how long," Lefevour said. "Historically, it has been taught at some police academies since the 1950s, so it is not something someone suddenly decided to do."

Lefevour, a former police officer, said use of the Wrap or the Body Guard isn't a guarantee against an in-custody death. It simply eliminates the specter of positional asphyxia.

"People dying in police custody is almost akin to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, it is as diverse as that. It happens all the time," he said. "Because of drug or alcohol use or for psychological reasons, if people are so disturbed they will fight with police to the point where they are past physical recovery , it does generally result in asphyxiation or a heart attack. It would be akin to you or I, and I am not a runner, going out and attempting to run at full speed until our body simply failed."

Lefevour said in some instances people have died after fighting with police before the officer could even get the Body Guard on.