Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has accused Justice David Prosser of using a “chokehold” on her.  The Dane County Sheriff’s office is investigating.

Remember the term “chokehold” as the investigation as to what really happened progresses and the facts eventually come out.

“Chokehold” is a very specific term, and is more than hands or a forearm coming into contact with one’s neck.  A chokehold requires that there be sufficient pressure applied as to put the person at risk of reduced oxygen or blood flow.

In City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 97 fn. 1, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 1663 fn. 1 (1983), the United States Supreme Court described a chokehold as follows:

The police control procedures at issue in this case are referred to as “control holds,” “chokeholds,” “strangleholds,” and “neck restraints.” All these terms refer to two basic control procedures: the “carotid” hold and the “bar arm” hold. In the “carotid” hold, an officer positioned behind a subject places one arm around the subject’s neck and holds the wrist of that arm with his other hand. The officer, by using his lower forearm and bicep muscle, applies pressure concentrating on the carotid arteries located on the sides of the subject’s neck. The “carotid” hold is capable of rendering the subject unconscious by diminishing the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. The “bar arm” hold, which is administered similarly, applies pressure at the front of the subject’s neck. “Bar arm” pressure causes pain, reduces the flow of oxygen to the lungs, and may render the subject unconscious.

As defined at Wikipedia (bold in original, italics added):

A chokehold or choke (also stranglehold or in Judo referred to as shime-waza, 絞技, “constriction technique”) is a general term for grappling hold that critically reduces or prevents either air (choking) or blood (strangling) from passing through the neck of an opponent, the restriction may be of one or both and depends on the hold used and the reaction of the victim. The lack of blood or air may lead to unconsciousness or even death if the hold is maintained. Chokeholds are used in martial arts, combat sports, self-defense, law enforcement and in military hand to hand combat applications. They are considered superior to brute-force manual strangling, which generally requires a large disparity in physical strength to be effective.  Rather than using the fingers or arms to attempt to crush the neck, chokeholds effectively use leverage such as figure-four holds or collar holds that use the clothes to assist in the constriction.  [footnotes and embedded links omitted]

Similar definitions are found at Merriam-Webster (“a hold that involves strong choking pressure applied to the neck of another”) and Free Dictionary Online (“a restraining hold; someone loops the arm around the neck of another person in a tight grip, usually from behind”).

There have been numerous instances of chokeholds leading to death and murder charges.

Wisconsin law recognizes the use of a chokehold as a criminal battery if there is no legal justification for its use.  In Re John Doe Petition, 329 Wis.2d 724, 735, 793 N.W.2d 209, 214 (2010)(Wisc. Ct. Appeals)(“allegations that a prison guard squeezed his neck to the point of impairing his breathing, without any legitimate purpose for the chokehold, could conceivably support a charge of battery or some other offense”). 

There also is a specific statute making it a felony to commit a battery on a judge.  W.S.A. 940.203 (“(2) Whoever intentionally causes bodily harm or threatens to cause bodily harm to the person or family member of any judge under all of the following circumstances is guilty of a Class H felony”). 

So let’s be clear, Bradley has accused Prosser of committing a felony, not just having a bad temper. 

If Prosser has a defense, such as self defense, that would not diminish the nature of Bradley’s allegations, but merely would provide a legal justification.

 If Bradley repeats to the investigating law enforcement authorities the charge that Prosser used a “chokehold” on her, and if that charge is false, Bradley will have violated of W.S.A. 946.41 (“(1) whoever knowingly resists or obstructs an officer while such officer is doing any act in an official capacity and with lawful authority is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor…. (2)(a)  “Obstructs” includes without limitation knowingly giving false information to the officer….”).

Christian Schneider has a thorough report based on his own interviews which casts substantial doubt on Bradley’s account.  Nonetheless, in fairness to Bradley, we should await the outcome of official investigations.

But in fairness to Prosser, if it turns out that Bradley’s “chokehold” allegation was false and that allegation was repeated to the police, then Bradley should face the full force of the law.  And if Bradley does not make the accusation to the police as she made it to the public, then the demand for her resignation should be universal.

No one should be allowed to escape the consequences of Bradley’s chokehold allegation, including Bradley.