Police officers are charged with upholding the law and protecting the people in the communities they serve; it is devastating when a police officer breaks this public trust and abuses his or her power. Fortunately, the majority of police officers are dedicated to their jobs and act with integrity. Unfortunately, however, cases of police brutality and misconduct continue to occur across the country.
Being victimized by an authority figure can be traumatizing, causing emotional, financial, and physical damage and injury. Pursuing litigation over police brutality allows victims and their families to seek justice and also protects other civilians who may fall prey to police misconduct.
If you or someone you know experienced police brutality or misconduct, call Parker Waichman LLP today.
Types of Police Misconduct
Police misconduct may take many different forms. The most frequent example involves the use of excessive force, or brutality. Police officers are allowed to use a reasonable amount of force, as necessary, to control a situation. If an officer exceeds what is deemed reasonable, he or she may be guilty of violating an individual’s civil rights. Excessive use of force may also lead to serious injuries, including disability and death. Examples of police misconduct may include:
- Coercion or blackmail
- Excessive force
- False arrest or wrongful imprisonment
- Fatal shootings
- Illegal search and seizure
- Racial profiling
- Sexual assault
Weapons and Excessive Force
Some victims allege harm through the use of a weapon, such as a Taser or a gun. The precise legal use of police firearms is dictated by each state; however, typically policies indicate that guns should only be used when a police officer or another person is in imminent danger, or if a suspect who allegedly committed a dangerous crime is fleeing and poses an imminent danger to others following their escape. Sadly, there have been a number of cases in which a police officer used his or her firearm in unwarranted situations, sometimes allegedly killing an innocent civilian.
Excessive force may also occur through Tasing. Many believe that Tasers are non-lethal; however, that is not necessarily the case. According to an Amnesty International report for the United States from 2015 to 2016, at least 670 Taser-related deaths occurred since 2001; 43 Taser-related deaths occurred across 25 states. The report also found that authorities fail to accurately document the number of people killed by law enforcement each year, noting that estimates range anywhere from 458 to more than 1,000 people. Additionally, Amnesty International described state statutes on the use of lethal force “far too permissive,” nothing that “none limit the use of firearms to a last resort only after non-violent and less harmful means are exhausted, and where the officer or others are faced with an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
Illegal Search and Seizure
Police misconduct may involve a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from illegal searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment indicates that civilians cannot be searched without probable cause.
Injuries and Deaths Caused by SWAT Team Search Warrants
In March 2017, The New York Times published an investigative report calling attention to deaths and injuries that result when SWAT team officers are used to execute search warrants. Most of the time, these tactical raids are conducted in search of drugs. No-knock warrants, as they are called, give police officers the right to force entry into a home to execute their search warrant. There are also other warrants in which police are required to announce themselves before forcing their way in; these are knock-and-announce entries. The NYT reports that, in many situations, it makes little difference which method is employed.
The NYT piece paints a terrifying picture of the raids; a team of fully armored police officers carrying an assortment of military-type weapons enter a home unannounced, ready for battle. The idea for SWAT emerged out of Los Angeles and other large cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s to manage civil unrest and firefights. Now, however, they are mostly used for drug searches. The NYT writes, “Once the teams were formed, their existence had to be justified. Drug searches became the answer.”
But it seems like these armed and unannounced drug raids are often being conducted at the cost of safety. According to an NYT investigation, drug raids conducted from 2010 through 2016 resulted in the deaths of at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers. This investigation was based on open-record requests along with police and court files. The NYT notes that, for the most part, the government does not require reporting for SWAT team-related fatalities.
NYT reports that these aggressive drug raids have resulted in avoidable deaths, injuries, and legal settlements. One well-known case occurred in May 2014 when a SWAT team officer mistakenly threw a flash-bang grenade into a toddler’s playpen, severely injuring him. Deputy Nikki Autry, who was with the Habersham County sheriff’s department at the time, conducted the raid. According to The NYT, Autry conducted a number of errors in pursuing the no-knock warrant. Among other things, she failed to adequately assess whether there were children in the house.
The child, who survived the explosion, underwent his 15th surgery in late 2016. The family says he and his siblings remain traumatized by the event. Although they received $3.6 million in settlements from a federal lawsuit, the family says only $200,000 remains. The rest has been used on medical and legal expenses.
The NYT reports that this type of unannounced forced and armed entry, or “dynamic entry” has affected children, elderly individuals, innocent people, and even family pets. Dynamic entries prompted an average of 30 civil rights lawsuits each year from 2010 to 2015, according to the NYT investigation. The paper writes, “Many of the complaints depict terrifying scenes in which children, elderly residents, and people with disabilities are manhandled at gunpoint, unclothed adults are rousted from bed, and houses are ransacked without recompense or apology.”
These raids are particularly concerning when they are used on someone who is innocent. For example, a 68-year-old woman and her 18-year-old daughter say they were handcuffed in front of neighbors in 2012. The police had forced their way into her home after someone pirated the woman’s internet connection to make threats against the authorities. In Detroit, a seven-year-old girl died when police officers had the wrong address.
Raid-related injuries and deaths have led to legal settlements. In 2010, a 22-year-old woman was shot in the chest by a police officer armed with an assault rifle. She was hiding in the closet when the police forced their way into her home. It turns out, they were supposed to raid the apartment below her. The police officer says he tripped, and shot her by mistake. The woman spent a week in the hospital and an additional three months recovering. She won a $650,000 legal settlement.
The NYT reports that, among the civil lawsuits filed, at least seven were settled for over $1 million from roughly 2012 through 2017. One $3.75 million settlement was awarded to the family of a man who was accidentally shot while lying on his stomach. The Framingham grandfather was unarmed and compliant. In 2013, a 26-year-old former Marine was shot over 20 times during a drug raid. The police failed to find any drugs. His family reached a $3.4 million settlement.
The Times reports that “In each of those cases, as in almost all botched raids, prosecutors declined to press charges against the officers involved.”
Not all police officers believe in the regular use of dynamic entry. In fact, the National Tactical Officers Association has long said that these types of raids should only be used when necessary. Robert Chabali, who served as chairman from 2012 to 2015, has even said that dynamic entry should never be used to search for drugs. “It just makes no sense,” he said to The NYT. “Why would you run into a gunfight? If we are going to risk our lives, we risk them for a hostage, for a citizen, for a fellow officer. You definitely don’t go in and risk your life for drugs.”
What Should I Do If I Am A Victim?
Cases of police brutality may be complicated because many victims go directly to jail after allegedly being abused, which may lead to further trauma. If you are free to act after being victimized, you should take the following steps to start seeking justice:
- Document the entire incident in detail. This includes taking numerous photos of your injuries and any damage.
- Seek medical attention immediately. Healthcare professionals will not only treat your injuries, they will also document your injuries in your medical records.
- Obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses to the alleged police brutality.
- Contact one of our attorneys
If you find yourself in the hands of law enforcement after the misconduct, do your best to remain as calm as possible in order to protect yourself. Comply with requests made of you by law enforcement. Do not show any signs of non-compliance, as this could be used against you. Contact one of our attorneys as soon as the incident is over.
Parker Waichman’s Experience With Police Misconduct and Brutality Lawsuits
Parker Waichman has received, on behalf of its clients, monetary awards for various plaintiffs who were, for example:
- Assaulted by correction officers at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility.
- Assaulted by Emergency Medical Service (EMS) worker.
- Thrown down a flight of stairs by a police officer.
- Shot in the back by a police officer.
- Shot at by a police officer while sitting on steps outside his home with his child.
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