Most police officers are honest, ethical, and hardworking. Police officers have an incredibly difficult job and often find themselves in dangerous, life-threatening situations. Police officers also have an enormous amount of power over regular citizens - with great power comes great responsibility.
If you have watched the news at all over the past 5-10 years, you have undoubtedly seen cases involving the unnecessary and excessive use of force by police officers. There was the 2015 Texas Pool Party Incident in which corporal Eric Casebolt was video recorded tackling Dajerria Becton, a 15-year-old girl, in a wholly inappropriate and excessive manner. Ex-cop Roy Oliver was found guilty in 2018 in the murder of Jordan Edwards, another 15-year-old teenager. In 2015, a police officer in Washington, D.C. body slammed Jason Goolsby, an 18-year-old who was arrested for essentially being black and opening a door for a white family. The incident was caught on camera and went viral. Jason Goolsby sued the District for $11 million. The case is ongoing.
Generally, police misconduct claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This statute provides civil liability against any person who, under color of state law, deprives any citizen of the United States of the rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution. This statute was enacted in 1871 as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which is also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act because the primary purpose was to provide a civil remedy against discriminatory abuses being committed in the Southern states.
Very few Section 1983 cases happened until Monroe v. Pape, which was a lawsuit against 13 Chicago police officers for breaking into a home without a warrant. The decision allowed individual governmental employees to be sued for violating the Constitution.
Although police misconduct claims are frequent, success is rare. Suing the police is hard because of the wording of Section 1983. First, the lawsuit must allege that the officer was acting “under color of state law.” Therefore, if an officer is off-duty at the time of the police misconduct or brutality incident, that could create some severe problems in holding the officer liable. Second, qualified immunity may apply. Qualified immunity means those police officers and other government officials generally are not subject to suit unless they violate clearly established Constitutional acts or act with deliberate indifference. The deliberate indifference standard is far beyond the usual negligence standard regular citizens are held to. It requires proof of conduct that almost reaches intentional conduct.
The recent media attention has drawn calls to overhaul police protocols and require police officers to wear body cams. However, despite such advances, problems still occur. When police officers overstep their authority and hurt people, there may be civil liability. Police brutality lawsuits seek to obtain compensation for victims and also act as a safeguard to keep governmental authorities in check. Lawsuits can come in several forms:
Police misconduct claims are incredibly challenging and require experienced counsel. If you or someone you know has suffered from police brutality or police misconduct, call Peter Anderson of Ketterer, Browne & Anderson at 855-281-2571.
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