We want to believe that police protect us. And most often, they do. But there is no question that police can and do abuse their authority, often with deadly results. While police conduct may have improved compared to earlier times, concern about police brutality is on the rise. As a society we have learned better ways to enforce the law. Yet, while the tide has turned against police abuse, incidents of abuse remain common. Fortunately, courts are increasingly willing to punish misconduct and to compensate victims.
Misconduct has become much more visible due in large part to the filming of police actions by the average person with the use of a cell phone. With increased attention and increased protests regarding police misconduct, it is more important now than ever to get the help you need if you are a victim of police brutality.
Officer-Involved Shootings, Beatings, and Tasers
In July 2020, two Oklahoma officers were charged with second-degree murder for the alleged tasing of a man last year. It is alleged that the officers used the taser more than 50 times in a span of less than 10 minutes on 28-year old Jared Lakey before Mr. Lakey died of a heart attack. It seems we hear of a similar story somewhere in the nation at least every week, yet there are many more incidents that don’t appear in the news. Unless someone presents evidence in court or in an administrative setting, police conduct can go unchecked. Less-lethal weapons become deadly weapons. Deadly weapons are unnecessarily deployed. Excessive force is used against non-compliant persons.
We all have the basic right to be free from harm from the state and any of its officers and agents. A police officer making an arrest may only use that force necessary to make the arrest. An officer may not use excessive force. When an officer uses excessive force, an injured individual may bring a lawsuit for wrongful injury or a lawsuit claiming that their civil rights were violated. These lawsuits, when they are successful, allow the victim or victim’s family to collect money damages.
There is Recourse Available to Victims of Police Brutality
Excessive force when used by police can be thought of as the constitutional tort equivalent to the state law torts of assault and battery. A tort is an injury against a person.
In federal court, most civil actions against police officers for misconduct are filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which allows an individual the right to sue state government employees and others for civil rights violations when that person is acting the color of law regarding their under duties, or within the scope of their duties.
The Qualified Immunity Hurdle
Police have what is known as “qualified immunity” which makes it difficult to sue them. Qualified immunity is a judicial construct. It is a doctrine that shields police from being held personally liable for actions such as the use of excessive force for money damages under federal law as long as the officer did not violate clearly established law. This legal construct has made it difficult to hold officers accountable when they engage in excessive force.
Thus, a police officer can be shielded from liability if they were performing a “discretionary” function at the time they acted, and if they did not violate clearly established constitutional or statutory right that a reasonable person in their position should have known.
In order to prevail, the officer’s actions must have been willful and unreasonable. In addition, the action must be provable. This is why video footage of the force used is so helpful to a case. It can provide direct evidence of unreasonable conduct. The officer’s intentions, good or bad are immaterial to the reasonableness of the conduct.
These cases are most successful when a person can prove a pattern of abusive behavior by the officer in question, and that the injured party had their civil rights violated by the officer’s actions. Finally, the injured party must show that the injury was significant or that a their loved one died while in police custody.
If you or a loved one are wondering about the legality or illegality of police actions brought against you, please feel free to contact us with your questions.
Free Consultation with a Tulsa Police Brutality Attorney
If you would like a free consultation with a Tulsa police brutality attorney at Wirth Law Office, call (918) 879-1681.
If you prefer email correspondence, you may submit a question through the form at the top right of this page.