On May 12, 2021, Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Lopez responded to a call in a northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood regarding a domestic dispute with Daniel Hobbs.
The encounter ended when Lopez shot Hobbs multiple times, and he died from his injuries later in the hospital.
Now that the police department has released the officer’s body camera footage, we know a little bit more about the interaction that led up to the shooting. What can this incident tell us about body cameras and civil rights in the face of abusive police? Civil rights attorney Jacqui Ford explains below.
Body camera footage and what it means
The video of Hobbs’s shooting paints a pretty bleak picture. Lopez approaches Hobbs, who is standing on the sidewalk, staring at the sky. Lopez begins to interrogate Hobbs, and learns that he has schizophrenia.
Despite not being threatened at all, Lopez insists on searching Hobbs’s person. (Read more about the legality of police searches below.)
When Hobbs resists being searched, the two begin to struggle, both trying to get a hold of Lopez’s taser. It’s at this point that Lopez’s camera is turned off, but we can see from a neighbor’s cell phone recording that Lopez shoots Hobbs four times in the torso.
The combined footage appears to depict a police officer using excessive force to conduct a warrantless search, ultimately leading to an unarmed man’s death.
For decades, reformers have been advocating the use of mandatory body-worn cameras in police departments to increase the accountability that police officers face in their interactions with the public.
However, studies have shown that body cameras generally do not have a significant impact on police officers’ or citizens’ behavior.
In addition, the use of these cameras as an accountability tool has consistently run into a major design flaw: when the police don’t want to be filmed, they simply turn their cameras off. Whether intentional or not, that’s what happened with Officer Lopez in his struggle with Daniel Hobbs.
Police shootings and brutality cases are caught on camera all the time, and yet this rarely has the effect of holding police accountable for their actions, or reducing the rate of police brutality and civil rights violations. That’s why reformers need to focus instead on broad, systemic changes to policing and incarceration in the United States, rather than band-aids like body cameras or sensitivity training.
Know your rights when the police want to search you
In the video, Lopez asks Hobbs if he has any weapons on him, and then asks if he can search him. Hobbs attempts to turn out his pockets and show Lopez that he only has a wallet on him, but Lopez tells him to put his hands behind his back so Lopez can conduct the search himself.
When Hobbs refuses consent to the search, that’s when the struggle begins.
In general, police are not allowed to search you unless they have a warrant. This includes your home or property, your vehicle, or even your person. However, there are some exceptions to this rule:
- Probable cause– the police have reason to believe you are carrying something illegal
- Emergency situation– to prevent harm from happening
- Consent– if you give your consent to being searched
- Arrest– if you’ve just been arrested
However, as the video of Hobbs’s shooting demonstrates, police often simply ignore this rule, and conduct warrantless searches whenever they want. While you are perfectly within your rights to refuse a search of your person, the results can be deadly.
Suing the police for excessive force
At Jacqui Ford Law, we use 42 U.S. Code § 1983, a federal statute that protects Americans’ civil rights, to sue the government on behalf of clients whose civil rights have been violated. These lawsuits are usually referred to as “1983 claims,” and can fight against a number of different government wrongs:
- Police brutality
- Racial profiling
- Abuses of power
- Government agencies depriving citizens of their rights
One of the violations you can file a 1983 claim for is excessive force. This means you can sue the police officer, supervisor, or responsible government agency for damages if you were seriously injured or a loved one was killed by the police.
But 1983 claims against the police are notoriously difficult to win. You have to prove a number of things in court:
- A pattern of abusive, discriminatory, or harassing behavior by the officer in question (one incident isn’t enough)
- That there was significant injury caused by the police
- That the officer involved was not justified in their actions
And even then, the odds are stacked against you because of a myriad of ways that the United States justice system tends to favor the police.
You will need an experienced and fierce civil rights lawyer on your side if you’re going to sue the police for excessive force.
Hire an Oklahoma civil rights attorney
At Jacqui Ford Law, our priority is to hold the government accountable and make sure you get the justice you deserve. If you’ve been the victim of police misconduct, or if your civil rights are being violated in any way, contact us to schedule a free consultation and talk about your case.