Denver police are accountable to act under often tense and volatile situations, to maintain actions of a “reasonable person” while apprehending a criminal who may likely not be acting reasonably, department policies have been instituted to monitor use of force incidents and encounters.  The Denver Police takes matters of excessive force seriously to insure a rebuilding of community trust, and most recently reassigned an officer to desk duty as a punitive action to his overuse of force during an encounter where the arrested person was already subdued.  Officers must perform their duties under intense hazardous conditions with all eyes upon them leaving no margin for error in judgment as they strive to preserve peace as the end goal to their mission.  The determination of the appropriate level of reasonable action is often measured by the civilian interpretation and not the officer’s interpretation. This begs the question of, “When does “use of force,” as part of the legal activity of law enforcement personnel to preserve peace and maintain a safe environment, switch gears into full out illegal activities including police brutality of individuals caught breaking the law?

What is excessive force?

Excessive force is the term described as using continued force even after a criminal has been subdued and has been justified in high intensity situations where the potential for serious bodily harm, mass bodily harm, and death were present.  Police officers allowed “use of force” including hands, batons, tasers, or other weapons when necessary, and in accordance with officer training and department policy, is among the many misinterpreted powers placed upon government employees, and a topic prevalent in our daily news.  The broad-based authority given to police “under color of law” to use force while apprehending criminals, utilizing both physical and psychological methods, to deter and reduce crime is based on policy that dictates what is considered “reasonable” force in any given situation and is often difficult to clarify and measure.

What are the laws that support my claims against excessive force?

Federal laws addressing police misconduct include criminal and civil statutes to cover officers’ action in state, county and local jurisdictions including prisons and jails, addressing illegal willful actions undertaken while using the power vested in them by a governmental agency.  The phrase that defines this power is “under color of law.” It is a crime to deprive another person of their protected rights under United States Constitution (18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242), and criminal and civil legal action can be initiated to remedy the injustice with the possibility of fines and/or prison time. The laws are to protect all people in the United States whether they are citizens or not.

In the Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 18 outlines when an officer is justified in the use of any force, and the duty of a police officer to report if they witness excessive force as follows:

Section 18-1-707 covers justified use of force whereby “a peace officer is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary: to effect an arrest or to prevent the escape from custody of an arrested person unless he knows that the arrest is unauthorized;  or to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force while effecting or attempting to effect such an arrest or while preventing or attempting to prevent such an escape.”

Section 18-8-802 addresses the duty to report offenses of excessive force. A peace officer who, in pursuance of such officer’s law enforcement duties, witnesses another peace officer, in pursuance of such other peace officer’s law enforcement duties in carrying out an arrest of any person, placing any person under detention, taking any person into custody, booking any person, or in the process of crowd control or riot control, use physical force which exceeds the degree of physical force permitted pursuant to Section 18-1-707 must report such use of force to such officer’s immediate supervisor.

What kind of an action can I initiate with regard to the abuse I have endured?

You may file a formal complaint to the police department itself, and further civil or criminal lawsuit with the court system if you or legal counsel feel you have a strong case against police brutality you have suffered.  Damages may include hospital/medical expenses; past and future permanent disability payments; emotional distress including depression and anxiety; loss of enjoyment of life; physical pain and suffering; and loss of love and companionship due to a death or serious injury caused by police brutality through excessive force resulting in loss to you.

What is Denver Police Department’s policy on “use of force” and “de-escalation training?”

The Denver Police Department has changed its “use of force” policy, directing police to avoid rushing into volatile situations by utilizing de-escalation techniques that limit the use of weapons against people they have encounters with.  These changes address the national trend of major U.S. Cities to rethink how law enforcement personnel interact with citizens after the high-profile shooting involving deaths of unarmed black men.

Officers Must Make Professional Judgment Calls Regarding the Application of Force and Address:

1. The type and severity of the incident or crime at issue,
2. The person posing an immediate threat to the officer or others,
3. The person’s physical resistance to an arrest or other lawful detention,
4. The person fleeing from an arrest or other lawful detention,
5. The size, age, relative strength, skill-level, and physical condition (including injury or exhaustion) of the person and the officer,

6. The officer’s level of training and experience,
7. The number of persons and/or number of officers on the scene,
8. The duration of the incident, specifically in relation to the physical resistance offered by the person,
9. The time available to an officer to decide to use response to resistance levels of control/force,
10. The person’s proximity or access to weapons,
11. Environmental factors and other exigent circumstances, and
12. The officer’s perceptions at the time the decision to use force was made.

New policy addressing fair and effective policing that supports equal justice while maintaining trust and safety in the communities can be achieved through. 

  1. National standards of “use of force” update guidelines;
  2. Liability to police departments regarding negligence;
  3. Officers and law enforcement personnel should be screened for implicit bias and aggression, including psychological testing;
  4. Development of collaborative approaches to respect dignity in the community, with a problem-solving focus based on unique demographics of police department;
  5. Monitoring of complaints should be effectively followed and addressed with action when necessary;
  6. Video recording use is effective for accountability standards;
  7. State legislation should add language and be written to uphold federal laws amending the state of mind required to hold a police officer under 18 U.S.C. 242 from “willful” to “reckless.”
  8. Separate policing practices and immigration matters to protect human rights;
  9. Monitor use of military equipment in law enforcement;
  10. The Department of Justice should require all law enforcement agencies to provide disaggregated demographic community encounter data.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of police brutality through excessive force, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible to review the incident and begin the process of a formal complaint and/or legal action with the courts. A Civil Rights Attorney will be able to measure your damages, including hospital/medical expenses; emotional distress including depression and anxiety; loss of enjoyment of life; and physical pain and suffering if you were injured during the unlawful arrest.

 

Sources:

http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title18-section242&num=0&edition=prelim

http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title18-section241&num=0&edition=prelim

Colorado cop accused of using excessive force moved to desk work