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Reexamination of Custody Restraint Position and Positional Asphyxia

Chan, Theodore C. M.D.; Vilke, Gary M. M.D.; Neuman, Tom M.D.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 1998 - Volume 19 - Issue 3 - p 201-205

The use of the hogtie restraint (also known as hobble or prone maximal restraint) by law enforcement and prehospital personnel has come under scrutiny because of reports of sudden deaths in persons placed in this restraint position. Some contend that this body position restricts chest and abdominal movement to the point that individuals are at risk for hypoventilatory respiratory compromise and "positional" asphyxiation. We review case reports of custody deaths in subjects placed in the hogtie position, as well as related medical literature regarding positional asphyxia. We also review the current research findings from human physiology studies that have investigated the effects of the hogtie position on respiratory and pulmonary function. We conclude that the hogtie restraint position by itself does not cause respiratory compromise to the point of asphyxiation and that other factors are responsible for the sudden deaths of individuals placed in this position.

From the Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California San Diego Medical Center, San Diego, California, U.S.A.

Received June 20, 1997; accepted June 25, 1997.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Theodore Chan, University of California San Diego Medical Center, 200 West Arbor Drive #8676, San Diego, CA 92103, U.S.A.

© 1998 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.