Police Brutality: America’s Growing Epidemic
Every seven hours, an American citizen is killed by a law enforcement official. In 2015, there were 1307 Americans killed by police. Though some of these deaths may have been justifiable, others were a result of inappropriate or illegal actions taken by police officers, including what some consider police brutality and a violation of civil rights. In some cases, this type of police misconduct involved discrimination or obstruction of justice. Yet, the police are indicted in less than 1% of killings.
Though these statistics should be shocking, to many Americans, they are no surprise. With broad media coverage of police brutality cases such as Ferguson, Missouri’s Michael Brown, Baltimore’s Freddie Gray and Palm Beach Garden’s Corey Jones, in recent years, American’s eyes have been opened to the level of abuse that exists in some of our country’s law enforcement agencies. All of this media attention has stoked the fire of groups such as the “Black Lives Matter” movement, an organization that believes our criminal justice system is flawed due to its bias toward protecting police officers.
Though officers need to have the power to carry out their jobs effectively and protect our citizens, on rare occasions, they abuse that power. Our Constitution and other federal and state laws place limits on how far authorities can go to enforce the law. The statute known as Section 1983 is the civil rights law that is the primary source of protection for victims of police brutality and misconduct. Section 1983 makes it unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her civil rights under the Constitution or federal law. That is why, when police willfully violate an individual's constitutional rights, that victim has recourse through our federal and state court systems which may result in compensatory and punitive damages.
The most common claims brought against police officers are:
Police have the right to arrest an individual without a warrant for a felony or misdemeanor committed in their presence. If that person believes the police violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure, they must demonstrate that the arresting officer lacked probable cause.
A malicious prosecution claim asserts that the officer wrongly deprived the victim of the Fourteenth Amendment right to liberty.
These are the cases most often shown in the media, as they have dramatic results, including severe injury and even death. The surrounding facts and circumstances of the case determine whether the officer's use of force was reasonable.
Failure to Intervene
When an officer witnesses his fellow officer violating the constitutional rights of another, they may be liable to the victim for failing to intervene.
Civil rights claims can be difficult to prove. Therefore, it is imperative for victims of this type of abuse to retain any and all evidence of the misconduct. As soon after the offence as possible, the victim should write a detailed description of what occurred. Photos of any injuries or property damage caused by the police should be retained, as should any existing blood evidence. If there were any witnesses to the abuse, their name, address and phone number should be collected.
If you believe that you or someone you know is the victim of a civil rights violation in Palm Beach Gardens or West Palm Beach Florida, contact our office immediately for a free consultation.