Let me start by saying that in my opinion, the majority of police officers are decent, hard-working people who have good intentions and often are required to deal with extremely challenging situations.
I often say that for criminal defense attorneys, the testimony of an honest cop at trial who admits to making a mistake or treating someone not as well as they should have, is the fastest way to a guilty verdict.
If you believe that you have been the victim of police misconduct, there are several things you need to know.
The first being that you should contact an experienced civil rights attorney who will evaluate the specific facts and advise you as to whether you should pursue civil or administrative claims.
The second is that in almost every state, there are VERY STRICT time limitations for suing a government entity, such as a police department or city, or its employees.
This is often known as a tort claim notice. Essentially you are required to put these parties on notice (via very specific protocols) of your intent to file claims. If you fail to do so within the applicable time period, you will lose your right to sue.
Meeting the tort claim notice deadline is the first deadline. Once you comply with the tort claim timeline, there are also timelines for filing a civil lawsuit.
Victims of police misconduct usually rely on 42 USCA § 1983; this statute makes it unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her rights under the Constitution or federal law. This includes actions such as:
An unlawful stop, detention or arrest;
Failing to provide medical care while someone is in police custody.
In addition to 1983 claims, individuals may also have common law claims against police officers such as Assault and/or Battery.
Before filing a lawsuit, some states require victims to first pursue administrative remedies such as:
Reporting the incident to the police department’s internal affairs division;
Reporting the incident to the Department of Justice (DOJ);
And to follow the administrative procedures regarding timeliness, cooperating with investigators, providing a statement, etc.
In addition to suing the individual police officers, in some cases it is appropriate to bring claims against their supervisors or the municipality for which they work for things like failing to train, supervise or discipline police officers in order to avoid civil rights violations.
Whether wrongdoing occurred is the first question.
Damages include physical and emotional injuries, expenses, and costs associated with the incident.
Depending on the case, punitive damages may be appropriate against the individual police officers to punish the police officer for malicious, deliberate and/or intentional conduct in an amount sufficient to punish him and to deter others from committing similar violations.
If you have been the victim of police misconduct, you should contact an attorney right away. If you don’t know an attorney, often the state bar organization where you live can provide you with the names of experienced attorneys in your area.
If you sustained physical injuries, make sure to have someone take photographs of those injuries right away. Make sure to obtain copies of any medical records documenting your injuries or treatment. Keep any receipts for out of pocket expenses you pay that relates to the incident such as prescriptions or medical copayments.
And finally, one of the most important and critical things you should do is to immediately write out a detailed summary of what happened. It’s amazing how quickly we forget critical facts that can help your attorney prevail in court. Don’t rely on memory. Write it down and do so as soon as possible.