What to do if Police Use Excessive Force

Police officers are charged with protecting the public and most officers do that. However, as in any profession, there are some officers who do not uphold their responsibilities and instead abuse their authority. Some of these officers use excessive force in situations that do not warrant it.
When is Police Force Excessive?
Officers are, of course, permitted to use force, if a situation warrants it. However, police officers are expected to use a continuum of force meaning that they should only use the amount of force that is justified in the situation and that is necessary to prevent a suspect from fleeing or to prevent people from being injured or killed. If an officer uses force in excess of the force that is necessary to get custody of a suspect or to prevent injuries or killings then the officer may be guilty of using excessive force. Some common examples of excessive force include:
  • Physical force against a person who is already in police custody and is not resisting being in custody;
  • Using a weapon against a person who does not have a weapon or a person whom a police officer should reasonably assume does not have a weapon; and
  • Using force to intimidate a suspect or a witness into giving a statement.
Anyone can be the victim of excessive police force. However, the Department of Justice statistics indicate that excessive police force is a larger problem for minority populations and that police officers need more training in this area.
A Victim’s Right to Sue
If you have been the victim of excessive police force, or police brutality, then you have the right to seek damages for your injuries. You may be able to bring a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the police officer violated your Fourth Amendment Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and your Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional right to equal protection under the law. Additionally, you might be able to bring a claim under the federal Civil Rights Act. 
State law may also give you a viable cause of action in state court. The state constitution may have similar protections to the federal constitution, for example. Also, if you were hurt, or a loved one was killed, by the police brutality then you may be able to bring a negligence or wrongful death claim.
Potential defendants in your claim include not only the police officer(s) who acted with excessive force but also the police department and municipality or other government entity that employs them.
Additionally, you have the right to file a complaint and request an investigation into the police officer’s activities either with your local police department or the entity in your state that is responsible for such investigations.
Excessive police force can have a profound effect on your life and could have caused you injuries that you should not have had to sustain. Therefore, it is important to understand your rights and to seek compensation if you believe that you have been a victim of excessive police force.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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