Middletown mayor aims to ban police chokeholds

MIDDLETOWN — There’s currently no official stance on Middletown police officers and chokeholds, but that’s likely to change next month.

At the town’s regularly scheduled council meeting on July 6, Mayor Kenneth L. Branner Jr. plans to introduce a resolution to ban them completely, with the promise of disciplinary action up to a firing if used.

The mayor announced the upcoming action on Sunday before several hundred gathered to protest the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. The officer who knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes was subsequently charged with second-degree murder for a response that has sparked national and global outrage.

Kenneth L. Branner Jr.

The weekend announcement came just prior to a federal-level legislative push to enact massive reforms to law enforcement procedures and accountability as well. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., and the Congressional Black Caucus announced the introduction of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which will ban chokeholds and carotid holds, among many substantial changes.

“Over the past weeks, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (in Louisville, Ky.) have shocked the conscience of this nation,” Rep. Blunt Rochester said in a statement.

“It also has challenged this nation and this Congress to address the historical practices of racism in the use of deadly force. We’ve watched Americans of every age, race, creed and station take to the streets to demand bold systemic change to policing in this country.

“Specifically, they are demanding increased accountability, transparency and training for officers sworn to protect our communities.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and original co-sponsor of the Act, said in part, “Thousands of Delawareans of all backgrounds and ages have taken part in protests from Wilmington to Dover, Middletown to Seaford, and millions have protested nationwide demanding justice and real change in our society.

“We must listen to those voices and take action …”

While Mayor Branner acknowledged pending federal and state action are likely coming as well, “we have ability to make things happen quicker here.

“We wanted to show those in Middletown that we are taking this seriously and want to be extremely proactive in doing the right thing now.”

Following the incident, Middletown’s mayor searched for a town policy on chokeholds but said he found no mention of anything at all.

Town officials are still tweaking the language to be presented as an agenda item, but the mayor expects that council members and police will offer their full support of any directive.

“I expect there to be no issues with getting something done based on the conversations I had with council members over the weekend,” the mayor said. “I presented the plan to (police chief Rob Kracyla) as well and can’t imagine any of our police officers would not support it.”

Also in the works is a diversity training program for officers, the mayor said.

Middletown has 38 officers overall and at least four are on duty at all times. At this point, Mayor Branner believes police and the community of 22,553 residents it protects and serves have a quite positive relationship.

“I would say we definitely do,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into community policing and our chief wants our officers to be out there connecting with people and understanding what’s going on by communicating with them.”