Podcast: I Can’t Breathe; Don’t Just Sit There with Your Head Up Your…

Of all the words spoken in 2020, perhaps none had more impact on police…and policing than just three…I can’t breathe. When George Floyd was heard multiple times exclaiming, he couldn’t breathe, it was to start a national anal exam of law enforcement tactics that resonates to this day…and has taken on a life of its own. What we found when producing our training program “I Can’t Breathe–or Can I?” was collective agreement among our technical advisors, whether it’s a subject declaring he or she can’t breathe during a stop or arrest, or I’m having chest pains. I have COPD, my pacemaker is effed up, or fill in all the health utterances possible, officers have absolutely positively got deal with it. In fact, retired Sergeant Herb Hood, a Line of Duty technical adviser, 33 year law enforcement veteran, former Cincinnati officer of the year puts it very bluntly:

“If somebody says to me that they’re having a heart and chest pain and the cops think they are lying, how do I know? What should I do? It’s very simple…call the squad, call the squad, call them for help. They, they could be lying, but how do you know they’re lying? If you’re going to risk, you’re going to risk that person’s life because you think somebody is lying. You’re gonna risk, uh, that families losing somebody because you think they might be lying. And then, you know, be selfish for a second. And I know cops aren’t selfish and I’m not asking them to be selfish, but the liability is, are you going to risk your career and your agency’s reputation and, and have the entire country be under some sort of scandal? Because I took it upon myself to think somebody’s faking and lying to me.

Well, they didn’t look sick. They didn’t act, you know, whatever. So here it is very simple. I mean, I, I don’t want to make it more complicated than it is. If somebody says, Hey, they feel bad. They’re sick. You know, I got back pain. I got chest pain. I think I blew my knee out. I’m going to puke. I can’t see out of my right eye, whatever the case is call the squad, get a supervisor there, start, start the paperwork right now, start documentation, get your camera on, use the camera to help ya and have EMS people already responding to document it. And so, and so if, if I just thought somebody up and start getting sick, well, there’s no use of force. It’s an injury to prisoner. We document everything because as soon as you don’t document something and something happens and then, and then you’re playing catch up.

It gives the appearance that you’re hiding something, that you’re sinister, that you did something wrong. Over document the shit of this stuff to make sure everybody is, is on the same page. Um, and, and of course, you know, cops, I don’t want to do any more paperwork. Well, I don’t how I don’t blame them. They are buried in paperwork and they’re doing paperwork and they can’t, they can’t get to the next radio run and all that other stuff and be proactive. I understand it. But the fact of the matter is the question is, Hey, somebody says they don’t feel well. Calling EMS. We need to have some more training to start looking at people and if they’re gasping, when they can’t get their air, they can’t do this. Their shoulders are coming from whatever, the reasons and stuff like that. You assume you think you smell that something’s wrong. Call for help and document it.”

Another Line of Duty technical advisor is Dr. Andrew Dennis, Head Trauma Surgeon at the Chicago trauma center. In addition, amazingly, Andrew is also a full time law enforcement officer with two Northern Illinois SWAT teams. He’s the head medico for the Illinois State Police. And his take is pretty much a mirror reflection of Sergeant Hood’s:

“And if you have someone in your custody, you are responsible for them. We know that people will claim things all the time to try to get out of custody. That’s your responsibility to maintain custody. But I think that you have got to give credibility to an individual’s complaints. When they say I can’t breathe, or it hurts because you haven’t evaluated them. They’ve been through a stressful ordeal. You’ve been through a stressful ordeal. You’ve got to deescalate yourself first and then make a rational decision. But if someone complains that they can’t breathe, for your own protection and for theirs, because you are responsible for them, once they are in your custody, you have to give that a degree of credibility. And you have to, you know, that then life threat has to be ruled out. At that point in time, you know, you don’t know who you’re dealing with. You don’t know whether they’re asthmatic. You don’t know whether they have bad coronary arteries. If they were fighting with you and you, and you now have them in people can have heart attacks. People can have pulmonary embolism. People can have asthmatic exacerbations. They can have exacerbations of COPD. So you don’t know what their baseline medical history is. You don’t know what their baseline is, period. Yes, you have to initiate control of the situation. And once you have that, then you have to give credence to any complaints, subjective or objective that they may have at that point in time.”

Okay? Now that’s settled. Let’s be honest. Any cop who spent more than about a half an hour on the street knows that lying and liars are a deadly hazard of the job. And that definitely includes those who would, shall we say, attempt to prevaricate, fabricate, or just lie through their teeth about health conditions. Retired Sgt. Mark DiBona, yet another Line of Duty technical advisor, says that long ago, EMT gave him several scenarios where such fakers could be readily brought into the light:

“I had a paramedic show me this years ago is, um, some people would, uh, to go along with their chest pains and the I can’t breathe, some people would, would fake that they pass out. They would just fall limp. But if you notice the way they fall, they would never fall face first. They would always fall backwards. Well, the FBI will call that a clue. Okay. And number two, what the paramedics showed me? And I absolutely loved. And it just brought back, brought back a memory. When you said that was, he told me, take their arm. Like this lifted up, lifted up and drop it over their face. He goes, if they’re legit really passed out, they’re arm will hit the face, hit their nose, hit their mouth. If they’re not passed out, they’ll just fall away because they don’t want to hit themselves in the face. So I, when somebody faked they’re passed out, I would do that. And I only had one person hit themselves in the face. One person that, that, that did that. So when the medics or the EMT has got on scene, I say, Hey, I did that thing. Whatever’s called it. Uh, and they, they they’re on fell to their side and you could see the paramedics look at each other, like, okay, we, we know, we know where this is going,”

Mark, what other tricks of the trade of EMT is passed along to you throughout the years?

” I remember the sternum rub. They, uh, they would rub people and just put their knuckles into this sternum, which is very uncomfortable because you go deep. And as you know, when you do CPR, you go, you go deep into the chest, each time, you do CPR, you break some ribs. Uh, so they would do the deep sternum and, and all of a sudden, boom, people would wake up. I mean, imagine that, or they would use the smell and salts, they would stick it up their nose, uh, which I enjoyed because it was stick up their nose. And we used to, we looked at each other, go wait for it, wait for it, then. Boom. Oh, what was that? Or they would ask, um, like, um, you know what day it is? Uh, who’s the president, uh, how many quarters in a dollar, a thing, things like that. So they would ask, well, I don’t know. I don’t know who the president is really serious. You don’t know four quarters make a, make a dollar, come on. So those are questions where they they’d go down to ER, and said, I asked the, I asked the patient this and they said, uh, they gave this answer or that answer or whatever. So those are like the tricks of the trade. Uh, one thing I used to do without actually thinking about a lot of things. Now, one of the things I used to do also was when somebody, uh, passed out is I would pinch their nose, just pinch their nose, nothing to stop the air flow, going through their nose. Their mouth is open. Eventually they gonna do that snort. They’re gonna, or whatever. If they’re there, if they’re passed out pinching, their nose is isn’t gonna do anything to them because they’re still breathing through their mouth. So, so I, I used to do things like that. These are tricks that older cops and paramedics taught me through the years. I’m not gonna lie. I called some people out. So listen, we, we, we know you’re full of BS here. All of a sudden now, you know, um, you’re rising a walking. Isn’t that, isn’t that amazing that I, uh, I pinched your nose. I, I should be, I should be the chief doctor in some hospital because I just cured you of your, you know, whatever, you know, and make quadruple my salary. So I would call them out. We both know your faking. Go back to the liability thing. I would still call the medics.”

And that’s pretty much it. Even if their lives are so apparent, their teeth are brown. Call the medics, cover your ass…

“Here’s how I look at it. You walk up to a perp on the side of the road for whatever reason. Okay. And they blurt out the words ‘I can’t breathe’. I’m not a doctor. I, I have no idea. Uh, what’s going on. What’s what’s going on. Is that a, um, excuse not to be arrested. It, it probably would be a 50 50 in my opinion. Sure. There’s absolute reason, but none of us want to be that cop that says you’re full of shit. That don’t don’t, don’t nobody, nobody wants to be that cop. And again, that person dies in your custody and look at how the media has portrayed, portrayed um, uh, George Floyd, all these incidents where while people have died in police custody, and most of the time they say they didn’t get medical attention, they didn’t do enough or anything like that. And as we know, Ron, we’re in a world now where your agency will look at you as a liability and you’re out that that’s the, that’s the bottom line. So if you offer this person, uh, medical assistance, you’ve, you’ve CYA’d and  at this point, as much as I hate to say this, like passing the buck, but let a medical professional, determine what they’re gonna do with that person. Is it, is it B.S. that people are saying that they get out trouble? Sure.”

Look for our new training program “I Can’t Breathe…or, Can I?” in 2021. And, wherever you are listening worldwide, keep us in mind for online training and distance learning. Simply go to lineofduty.com, click on the red square, get a two-week free preview if you are a member of a bonafide law enforcement agency, school Academy, or organization, or individual. lineofduty.com will open up a whole new world of training and education for you. Thank you for listening. Feedback for me, email, ron@lineofduty.com. I’m Ron Barber and that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy.


Leave a Reply