Unfortunately, not every encounter with police officers is a pleasant one, particularly if you or someone you love was arrested under circumstances that you believe were unfair, unlawful, or an abuse of the officer’s power.
There are both federal and state laws that protect you from abuse by law enforcement officers, but even still, filing a lawsuit against police departments for alleged misconduct is no easy task. It is possible, though, especially if you have the help of an experienced civil rights attorney.
Officers have legal protections of their own, such as “qualified immunity” that typically protects them from lawsuits — unless it’s proven that the officer in question purposely acted unreasonably or abused his or her power.
What do you have to prove in police misconduct lawsuits?
Police misconduct is a broad term that includes discrimination, harassment, false arrest, excessive force and more. Here are the elements you need to successfully litigate your claim:
- You have to prove a pattern of abusive, discriminatory or harassing behavior. One incident does not a pattern make.
- If you are claiming false arrest, you have to prove that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated by unreasonable seizure, i.e., police did not have probable cause or enough evidence to arrest you. Police only have to prove that they believed at the time there was enough evidence or probable cause for a judge to throw your case out.
- If you are claiming excessive force, you’ll have to show there was significant injury — or death if you are a loved one suing on behalf of someone who died in police custody. There is no specific definition of what constitutes excessive force, so it has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
What do you do to file a lawsuit against police?
If you or someone you love believe you were the victim of police misconduct, here’s what you need to do:
- Meet with an experienced civil rights attorney immediately. There’s little to no chance that you can successfully take on a case like this on your own, especially if you were arrested as a result of the misconduct. An experienced civil rights attorney will conduct his or her own investigation of what took place.
- Document everything as much as you can. Take pictures of your injuries, keep clothing and other things that might have been damaged during the interaction. Get contact information and write down reports from potential witnesses.
- Even without a lawsuit, you can file complaints with the police department involved in the altercation, as well as the U.S. Justice Department. You still need help from your attorney to do this, because these types of complaints can impact your case.
What are the potential outcomes of a police misconduct lawsuit?
If you are successful in your lawsuit against police, you could be entitled to monetary damages and punitive damages to punish the department for the misconduct.
If you sue the police and lose, you could walk away with nothing and still be facing criminal charges depending on whether an arrest was involved.
That’s why it’s so important to meet with a civil rights attorney before pursuing a case. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for help.