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Aug 25, 2008 6:39 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Chokehold is a deadly technique, expert says

Aug 25, 2008 6:39 PM

Exactly how did a 6-foot-1 golfer get the upper hand on a 6-foot-4 corrections officer who outweighed his attacker by as much as 75 pounds, gripping him so tightly that no one could make him let go?

The answer to that question has eluded almost everyone, except, perhaps, for the people who were at the Southampton Publick House the night of an alleged fatal assault earlier this month, and those close to the investigation.

Anthony Oddone, 25, put Andrew Reister, 40, into a chokehold and did not let go until well after Mr. Reister lost consciousness, according to police accounts of the incident on August 7 at the Southampton tavern. Mr. Reister died of his injuries two days later.

With police, prosecutors and even the defense remaining tight-lipped about the events, piecing together an analysis of the attack that resulted in Mr. Reister’s death is difficult.

Police have said it started when Mr. Reister, who was moonlighting at the microbrewery as an ID checker, asked Mr. Oddone to stop dancing on a table. It ended with Mr. Oddone fleeing in a cab and Mr. Reister unconscious on the floor.

Vito Dagnello, the president of the Suffolk County Correction Officers Association, said all law enforcement officers have the training to protect themselves, but when they walk into a situation, they do not know what they are dealing with.

“You don’t know if he was on drugs, alcohol, emotionally disturbed,” Mr. Dagnello said of Mr. Oddone. “All those things factor into this. And until the court case, that stuff won’t come out because of the investigation. So we don’t know the situation and what happened.”

Police did not test Mr. Oddone for drugs or alcohol when he was arrested. Southampton Village Police Chief William Wilson said that whether or not Mr. Oddone was intoxicated is irrelevant, because being willingly intoxicated is not a defense in a criminal act.

Police said several patrons tried to stop Mr. Oddone when he choked Mr. Reister, and, after Mr. Oddone fled, they performed CPR until EMTs arrived. At Mr. Oddone’s arraignment on August 20, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield said Mr. Oddone choked Mr. Reister with such force that he would not let go even when one person intervened by trying to drag him away by his feet.

A grand jury indictment against Mr. Oddone offers two theories of what happened at the Publick House: either Mr. Oddone intended to kill Mr. Reister, or he acted with depraved indifference to human life when he recklessly put him in the chokehold.

Whether Mr. Reister’s death was an intentional act or just the consequences of a fight that went too far, it shows the danger the chokehold technique poses.

When properly used in martial arts or law enforcement, a chokehold does not actually cut off air flow, as many people believe. Instead, the hold compresses blood flow to the brain, causing the victim to lose consciousness and, if the assailant does not release it in time, death.

In martial arts, a trained black belt learns techniques that can render someone unconscious in mere seconds. For the average person, it might take five to 10 seconds to cause someone to lose consciousness, said one Long Island martial arts expert with 41 years of experience who spoke on condition of anonymity, concerned that he might be called as an expert witness in the case. It is not known if Mr. Oddone had any martial arts training, or had otherwise learned how to apply a chokehold. But the martial arts expert noted that an untrained person can be more dangerous than someone who knows what he is doing.

Even if someone is not trying to kill his victim, if an attacker continues to apply pressure after the victim is unconscious, it can result in collapsed arteries, the expert said. In that case, a victim can die unless a medical professional is on hand who knows how to get the arteries open again, he said, adding, “It’s more than just CPR.”

The martial arts expert said that another concern with chokeholds is that, when applied improperly, they can crush the victim’s windpipe, requiring an emergency tracheotomy. Otherwise, the victim will suffocate.

The consensus in the scientific community is that brain damage starts to occur after four minutes without oxygen, and death follows a few minutes later.

In Mr. Reister’s case, the choke put him into cardiac arrest and he suffered severe brain damage, according to police. It happened early on a Thursday morning, and he died from his injuries the following Saturday morning, August 9.

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