How do I know if I have a Police Brutality or Excessive Force Case?
It may be difficult for someone who is not an experienced police brutality attorney to know whether or not they have an excessive force case. Of course, there are the obvious situations where someone is unnecessarily beaten or an officer unjustifiably shoots someone. When the use of force is extreme or completely unnecessary, it is much easier for a citizen to figure out if he or she was the victim of police brutality.
However, there are several situations where someone may have an excessive force case that they would not recognize. There are hundreds of cases setting forth what scenarios support an excessive force claim. These scenarios are very fact specific and depend on several factors. As such, if you believe you have a police excessive force case, you should consult with an experienced police brutality lawyer.
What is Police Brutality or Excessive Force?
Police brutality is also known as excessive force. The two terms can be used interchangeably. Definitions of police brutality and excessive force may differ depending on who you ask. Our civil rights attorneys define police brutality as the unnecessary and unreasonable use of force by a law enforcement officer under color of law.
Wikipedia defines police brutality as “the excessive and unwarranted use of force by law enforcement.” Legally, police brutality is the use of excessive force in violation of a person’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This right is guaranteed by federal law under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is also guaranteed by state law. Specifically, this right is guaranteed under Section 13 to the California Constitution. Section 13 of the California Constitution sets forth: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches may not be violated; and a warrant may not issue except on probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons and things to be seized.”
People usually think about “seizure” as the taking of something. These laws still apply even though they do not mention force or being beaten by police. Case law has interpreted the use of excessive force as a seizure of a person. This includes case law from the United States Supreme Court. Even though it is not a “seizure” of an object or item that someone traditionally thinks about—when someone is wrongfully beaten by police it is their rights and freedom that are being seized.
What Factors are Considered in An Excessive Force or Police Brutality Claim
There are several factors that are analyzed to determine if excessive force was used. Some of those factors include:
-The risk the person posed to the safety of the public.
-The risk the person posed to the safety of officers.
-Whether the person was evading arrest or trying to escape.
-Whether the person was actively resisting or passively resisting.
-Whether the person was a flight risk.
-The severity or seriousness of the crime alleged to have been committed.
-The proximity of the individual to weapons.
-The number of officers involved.
-The other reasonable alternatives available to the officers.
-The amount of time the officers had to determine the type and amount of force used.
-The type and amount of force used.
-Whether either side did anything to create the dangerous situation or escalate the need to use force.
-Whether it was practical to give a warning of the imminent use of force and whether such a warning was given.
-The age, infirmity or condition of the individual on who force was used.
-The past criminal or weapons history of the individual that was known to the officers prior to the use of force.
Do I Need To Have A Serious Injury to Have a Police Brutality Claim?
You do not need to sustain serious and permanent injuries to have a police brutality or excessive force claim. In fact, a claim can arise even if no physical injury is suffered at all. For example, if a police officer pointed a firearm at your head for no reason on a routine traffic stop. This would be an excessive use of force even without a serious physical injury.
“You do not need to sustain serious and permanent injuries to have a police brutality or excessive force claim.”
Obviously, the greater the injuries the more severe the potential violation. However, there are several circumstances where the use of excessive force can be proven even with minimal injuries. In these situations, there can be very little need for medical treatment and sometimes no medical treatment at all.
A police excessive force case is not necessarily about the extent of injuries the force caused. Instead, it is about the abuse of power by a law enforcement officer and a citizen’s right to be free from that abuse. Of course, the more serious the injuries, the easier it will be to prove the case in court. This is especially true when trying to prove a case to a jury.
Many people have inherent biases in favor of law enforcement and give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. However, the police brutality attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group have obtained six figure settlements for victims of police brutality who suffered no permanent injuries and required no medical treatment.
A Large Amount May Be Recovered for a Police Brutality Case Even Without Much Medical Treatment
Described below are a few cases that our police brutality attorneys handled where the client did not suffer significant injuries or have extensive medical treatment:
Macias v. City of Clovis – Our police brutality attorneys represented a young man who was beaten by cops and tasered while handcuffed. He was treated in the emergency room and then had two follow up appointments with his primary care doctor. His total medical expenses were under $3,000. He had no permanent injuries. We obtained a settlement of $650,000.
Brown v. City of Stockton – Our police excessive force attorneys filed a lawsuit for a black man who was harassed by a Stockton police officer on a routine traffic stop. Our client had a gun pointed to his head for no reason and was later tased for refusing to exit his vehicle out of fear of being shot. He received no medical treatment and suffered no injuries other than taser marks. We obtained a settlement of $235,000.
Smith v. City of Concord – Our excessive force lawyers represented a 64-year-old man who was taken to the ground and tased after he was pulled over on a traffic stop. Once on the ground, he was kneed in the ribs two times and then tased twice in dart mode. He was treated for cuts, abrasions, and bruised ribs. He had very little medical expenses. The City offered $200,000 to resolve his case.
Suarez v. City of Salinas—Our police brutality attorneys represented a special needs teacher who was taken to the ground by several Salinas police officers during a concert. Once on the ground, he was struck several times for no reason. He was evaluated at the emergency room the next day and had appointments with a therapist for PTSD. He had less than $2,000 in paid medical expenses. We obtained a settlement of $175,000.
Campbell v. Monterey County Sheriff’s Office – Our excessive force attorneys represented a young golf instructor who attended the Pebble Beach Pro Am golf tournament. Our client was taken to the ground by Sheriff deputies and his face was ground into the pavement. He suffered abrasions on his face which healed completely. He was evaluated at the emergency room and follow up diagnostic testing was performed that ruled out any serious injuries. His total medical expenses were under $3,500. We obtained a settlement of $100,000.
Are Police Brutality Cases Only Against Police Officers?
A police brutality case may be brought against any law enforcement officer acting under color of law. This includes more than police officers. A police brutality case may be brought against state, local and federal law enforcement officers or agents.
What State Law Enforcement Agents or Officers Can I Bring a Police Brutality Case Against?
A police excessive force claim may be brought against:
-Local police departments and their officers.
-County sheriffs and their deputies.
-California Highway Patrol officers.
-State park rangers and peace officers.
-Correctional officers employed by the California Department of Corrections.
-Game wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
-Special agents from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
-University and State Campus police
What Should I Do if I Experienced Police Brutality or Excessive Force?
If you experienced excessive force or were the victim of police brutality, you should contact a skilled police brutality lawyer from the Piccuta Law Group today. Every case is different and it is important that you consult with an attorney who knows how to win police brutality cases. Depending on the circumstances, you may be charged with resisting arrest or other crimes that you did not commit. In these situations, it is important that you know how taking a plea deal to the criminal charges may affect your rights and ability to sue for police excessive force later.
Should I Report the Use of Police Excessive Force to the Department or Agency?
Whether or not you should report the use of excessive force to supervisors at the police department or the law enforcement agency depends on the specifics of your case. If you are being charged with a crime, reporting the incident may give an incentive to the police to try and convict you of the crime. Under certain situations, pleading guilty or no contest to a resisting arrest charge may prevent you from suing the police department later.
If you do report the use of excessive force, the department or agency may open an internal affairs investigation. When this occurs, the officer or officers who used the force may be asked questions and be required to give a recorded interview. Evidence is analyzed and evaluated and the person performing the investigation will make a preliminary determination as to whether excessive force was used or if other department policies and procedures were violated. Once this is determined, the chief of police or head of the department will endorse or reject the findings and then discipline may be issued.
Discipline can include suspension without pay, suspension with pay, termination, admonishments, negative notes on a personnel file, demotion, additional training and many other things. If there is a sustained finding of excessive force or other violations of policies and procedures, this may be helpful to your excessive force case. Often times, this shows that the supervisors agree that a wrong was committed. However, this does not mean you will automatically win your case.
What is Needed to Prove a Police Brutality Case?
Generally, to prove a police brutality case, someone must show that an officer acted unreasonably or excessively. The legal standard is that a reasonable officer under the same or similar circumstances would not have acted in that way or performed the same actions. For example, if a police officer beats someone for merely asking questions, and no other reasonable officer would have done that, then you have established a claim. However, in addition to this, you must prove that the actions of the police officer were a substantial factor in causing you harm or damages.
Violations of department policy support that a police brutality claim exists. Sustained findings of misconduct from an internal affairs investigation show that the officer did not follow policies and procedures. It can then be argued that reasonable officers follow the rules and comply with their own policies and procedures. However, a violation of policies and procedures does not necessarily guarantee that you will win your police brutality case. You will still need to convince a court or jury that the violation was not reasonable and that you were damaged.
Contact a Skilled Police Excessive Force Attorney Today.
If you or someone you know was the victim of police brutality or law enforcement excessive force, contact the Piccuta Law Group today. Our police excessive force attorneys are experienced and have a proven track record of results. We have settled high-value police excessive force cases for over a decade. We have taken police excessive force cases to court and won jury verdicts awarding damages to our clients. We are not afraid to go the distance in these difficult cases. A consultation is free and you only pay us a fee if we win your case. Contact us today to learn more.
About the author: The content on this page was written by California civil rights lawyer and Monterey personal injury attorney Charles “Tony” Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Previously Top 35 US News & World Report). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout California and Arizona. He is a winning trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is AV Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project, Arizona Association of Justice, Maricopa County Bar Association and Scottsdale Bar Association, among other organizations.
Disclaimer: The information on this web site is attorney advertising and is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. Reading and relying upon the content on this page does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact our law firm for a free consultation and to discuss your specific case and issues.