Police Misconduct and Your Rights
This year, over 300 people have been shot by police. We see it on the nightly news and even on YouTube: police using excessive force, searching the body or property of a victim without a warrant, or falsely arresting a potential victim.
Under U.S. law, police brutality is a civil rights violation. This illegal behavior includes abusing a police officer’s authority by inflicting unwarranted, excessive force on an individual. Police brutality also extends to state, federal and military prison facilities.
Police officers may have justifiable occasion to use deadly force. However, they may use force that can cause death or serious bodily harm only in extreme conditions, after less violent attempts have failed.
Because police brutality is a violation of your civil rights, let’s examine what the law says you’re entitled to if found in a difficult situation.
On May 30, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the San-Francisco based “provocation rule,” giving police shooting victims an alternative option when suing for police brutality. In Los Angeles County v. Mendez, the plaintiffs in the case possessed a BB gun used to kill rats. Two Los Angeles County police deputies raided their abode without a warrant or announcing their presence, seriously injuring both inhabitants. The deputies were searching for a parolee, but instead found Mr. Mendez holding the BB gun along with his pregnant companion. Mendez and his companion, who he later married, both received $4 million in damages.
Under the provocation rule, if the police don’t use excessive force but provoke the potential victims to respond in a way that puts the officers in fear for their lives, the police may still be held liable for their actions. The provocation rule served as a separate violation under the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unlawful police search and seizure.
The Justices ruled unanimously that the provocation rule should be overturned. In so holding, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the rule’s “fundamental flaw is that it uses another constitutional violation to manufacture an excessive force claim where one would not otherwise exist.” Justice Alito further stated that the plaintiffs, in this case, cannot recover on the excessive force claim but may be able to recover on the warrantless entry claim, which resulted in injuries to both victims.
Police brutality and use of excessive force is not a new topic. It’s been one we’ve been grappling with for years. However, over the past few years, it’s become an even hotter topic.
To address these issues, in 2017, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force. The policy’s purpose is to provide police departments with guidelines on establishing update policies and procedures on the use of less-than-deadly force.
The policy emphasizes how police officers should “value and preserve human life.” In doing so, police officers must use de-escalation techniques whenever possible. De-escalation techniques encourage police officers to avoid physical confrontations with citizens by minimizing any potential use of force. Think of crisis prevention. Under de-escalation tactics, police officers are trained to evaluate body language, voice control, and listening skills to calm down a situation. Although de-escalation can’t be used in every case, it allows officers the opportunity to create a more peaceful situation as opposed to escalating to the use of deadly force.
Police body cameras are often placed on the officer’s hat or chest. These cameras can capture video footage and sound. These small cameras have been in use in the U.S. since 2012, with presidential funding given for the broad national use of these cameras in 2015. To date, 45 states and the District of Columbia have received funding from the Department of Justice’s Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program.
Like many procedures, the use and implementation of police body cameras have pros and cons. Let’s look at some of the advantages first.
Body cameras record sound and images of police stops and interactions. Proponents of the cameras state that these devices encourage and promote transparency, lessening potential police misconduct. Further, if misconduct does occur, then the camera has captured the alleged illegal actions. By doing both, police cameras promote accountability while increasing the public’s safety. Additionally, police cameras protect the police as well from false accusations of misconduct.
Another police camera pro is that the footage can be used to train new officers. Further, the footage can be reviewed with the office at the scene to see what went right, what went wrong, and what should be improved. Most Americans are in favor of police cameras for many of these reasons.
On the con side, police cameras can violate the privacy of citizens, especially in situations such as rape. Additionally, citizens may feel violated if they are providing information to the police or they suffer from health or mental conditions. Some witnesses or informants may not want to talk to a police officer if they know they’re being recorded, thus causing the officers to miss out on critical information.
Another complaint about police cameras is that the devices are expensive. Many police departments have limited budgets and can’t afford to invest in this technology. However, with continuing technological advances, these small cameras will become more affordable, giving police departments more options for transparency, safety, and protection.
Last year, almost 50 people were killed by police tasers. Since the early 2000s, according to Reuters, over 1,000 people have died from police taser use. A taser gun fires barbed darts onto a potential victim who may be at a distance while delivering a powerful shock. The potential victim will immediately become incapacitated after being hit by a taser’s darts as the electric shock interferes with your brain’s ability to control your body. These guns are not considered firearms but are in the same weapon class as other types of stun guns. Further, they are legal for police use in all 50 states.
Over 90 percent of those killed with tasers were unarmed, with 25 percent suffering from mental disabilities. Although this isn’t a substantial number of deaths, taser use has resulted in death, nonetheless. As of now, no formal taser training exists for police departments. Because of this, and the serious harm potentially caused by tasering, many communities are examining taser laws and regulations to see if they can be restricted.
Under U.S. law, police departments decide whether tasers should be used to restrain an individual. In Connecticut, the state legislature codified general rules of taser use. Vermont passed a law in 2014 limiting the circumstances when police can use taser guns, such as when this weapon can be used on those suffering from mental illness. Additionally, Vermont’s legislature established training procedures for those carrying the guns. Policies and procedures vary from state to state, city to city, and police department to police department. However, the use of tasers will continue to serve as a discussion point.
Your Civil Rights
The U.S. Constitution, along with other federal and state laws, contain protections for citizens against police officers exceeding their legal power. If an officer abuses his or her power, beyond mere negligence, then such actions can rise to a civil rights violation. If you’re injured by a civil rights violation, the law allows you to collect compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.
The primary civil rights law against police misconduct is federal law, Section 1983 under Title 42 of the United States Code. Under Section 1983, it’s unlawful for anyone acting under state law, such as police officers, to deprive another person of his or her legal rights. Some common misconduct claims against police officers that may violate a person’s civil rights are the use of excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution.
Like many of the instances discussed above, excessive force occurs when serious bodily injury or death results from police actions. These cases are the ones that often make the news. Remember Rodney King?
When determining whether your rights are violated from excessive force, your attorney and a court will examine the facts and circumstances of your case. The police officer’s intentions are irrelevant. For example, even if an officer had good intentions, but his or her use of force was excessive, the excessive force claim against the officer will stand.
Although this may not make the news as frequently as excessive force, false arrest is the most common accusation against police officers. Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers cannot use unreasonable methods for search and seizure, as previously mentioned. If it’s proven that such search and seizure actions were unreasonable and lacked probable cause, then the officer has violated your Fourth Amendment rights.
Malicious prosecution occurs when the police officer or the state “maliciously” brings a case against an individual, even though there is no case to be had. This action violates your Fourteenth Amendment rights to liberty.
Once the legal proceeding is over and dismissed, meaning the individual must win the civil or criminal proceeding, then he or she can sue either the police officer or the state for malicious prosecution, asserting that police actions exceeded reasonableness in the situation at hand. However, if the police officer had probable cause to arrest you, a case for malicious prosecution against that office could fail.
Civil rights cases against police departments can be complicated, expensive, and lengthy. If you think your rights have been violated by an officer, contact an attorney to help you navigate through your case.
Contact The Marrone Law Firm, LLC For Legal Assistance Today
Veteran litigator and television guest commentator Joseph M. Marrone, Esquire is dedicated to getting clients the recovery they deserve, whether it’s from police brutality or other illegal misconduct. He can be reached at 215-732-6700 or 866-732-6700.
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