Regardless whether it’s a rise in military-style equipment or methods, an increase in hostile exchanges or conflicts between law enforcement and citizenry, or just the widespread use of cellular phones and police body video, the amount of civil rights litigation directed against law enforcement officers, their corresponding departments, and even the communities in which they serve has been increasing. (The phenomenon could also be explained by the lack of criminal charges brought against the police officers for misbehavior.) All the while, municipalities have been paying out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits against law enforcement officers.
Suing the police for any kind of injury or damage is certainly a possibility, but the process is a lot different from more the more traditional lawsuits and can be a lot more complicated than the average injury litigation. Here are some very important factors that you should keep in mind before proceeding:
- Many people are simply not aware of the fact that they are legally entitled to sue law enforcement officers if they are injured while being placed under arrest, or if there is some other form of dispute, and injuries result. Some officers may indeed have limited immunity from certain claims, but that immunity doesn’t extend to mitigate true misconduct. Additionally, one has rights when it comes to digitally recording police behavior in public and asking for evidentiary materials if they could be a factor in potential litigation.
- As previously mentioned, filing a lawsuit against the police isn’t the same as filing a lawsuit against any other civilian, or taking a business to court. One has to file a tort claim or similar notification with the municipal entity that oversees the police department, then await a response before a civil lawsuit can moved forward.
- The Civil Rights Act, specifically Section 1983, is legislation written to protect people from excessive use of force, illegal searches and seizures, or any other violations of the Constitution. It also spells out the justification to file suit against police officers, the city government, or even the mayor, if warranted.
- Regardless as to whether or not one has suffered an actual physical injury, police officers acting outside the bounds of their responsibility, or with malice, can still be liable for misusing their authority. No officer of the law can make an arrest without probable cause that a crime was indeed committed. However, it is important to make the point that in the event prosecutors refuse to file charges or, alternatively, drop charges at a later time doesn’t necessarily make the arrest illegal. An arrest can be made in good faith by an officer who sincerely believes he or she has probable cause, but the subsequent investigation may demonstrate that no crime was committed and therefore no charges will be brought.
- There may be occasions when police misconduct results in injury to another member of the family. The question often arises, if your dog is injured during a search of your property or during an arrest, can you sue on your pets behalf? This is a much grayer area. Police lawsuits, as emphasized, are complicated. It is always best to document every aspect of an incident that you feel was caused by police misconduct.
If you or someone you know feels you need to talk to an attorney about an incident with law enforcement, you can contact Will Ferguson & Associates for the help you may need. We are here to help!