Police brutality and excessive force is one of the most divisive and important issues facing our community today. When a police officer brutalizes you, they are directly violating your constitutionally protected civil rights, and you are entitled to hold them accountable, and to recover money damages.
Most states have laws prohibiting the use of police brutality and excessive force, but the major vehicle for vindicating your rights is 42 U.S.C. §1983, a law passed by the United States Congress that allows citizens to sue police officers and government officials for “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States.
That means that when a police officer violates your Fourth Amendment right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures”, you can sue in federal court and win money awards.
The law surrounding police brutality is complex and difficult to summarize, but the basics are:
- Generally, police can only lawfully use the amount of force that is “reasonable” under the circumstances. If they exceed this reasonable use of force, they violate your constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment (Protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures). However, the court will view “reasonableness” from the perspective of a “reasonable officer” at the scene. In assessing what a reasonable officer would do on the scene, the court will look at many factors, including: the severity of the crime being investigated, whether the officer was facing an immediate threat to his safety, and whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or detention.
- Police enjoy a certain kind of protection from lawsuit called “qualified immunity”. Under this doctrine, police can only be held accountable for conduct that violates “clearly established” rights that a reasonable person would know about.