While traffic stops are a routine part of police business, they are also a common way for interactions between citizens and the police to go wrong.
An incident involving two Taylor County Sheriff’s deputies and three Perry Police Officers shows how easily police can become overbearing during a normal traffic stop. A traffic stop that was initially intended to investigate the possibility of a drunk driver resulted in the officers surrounding and hitting the driver multiple times. Video of this encounter shows the man being wrestled to the ground and shot by a taser, while a number of punches were thrown. The five total officers all seemed to be involved in restraining or hitting the lone suspect during a DUI investigation. The officers attempted to justify their actions by saying that the suspect was grabbing near their groin areas and weapons.
The victim, named Michael Shelton, has retained an attorney to file multiple civil claims against the city of Perry and the officers. These claims include false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of power, and excessive use of force.
What do these legal claims mean?
Some citizens may be unaware of the fact that misconduct by the police can be handled by letting a lawyer file one or more civil lawsuits on your behalf. In fact, this is one of the only effective ways to respond to police brutality, because the departments usually side with the guilty officers. Their employers rarely discipline them or terminate their employment. Prosecutors also are very reluctant to file criminal charges against police officers outside of the most extreme cases of police abusing their authority.
Excessive use of force is essentially a claim that police used more force than necessary to detain and process a suspect. Aside from incidents involving violent crime or armed suspects and gunfire, there is little need for police to use force to detain a victim. This is especially true in most traffic stops. If there is clear evidence of police beating someone for a minor offense, they are likely acting outside of their protocol, which requires them to respond with only the amount of force necessary to diffuse a situation.
False arrest and malicious prosecution both involve the police and the rest of the criminal justice system. In situations like the one described above, police will want to make sure the party they have injured is arrested in order to justify their behavior as part of the incident. However, in many cases the police and their superiors usually create a narrative that is most favorable to their point of view. This can even extend to some prosecutors who handle these cases and refuse to drop improper criminal charges out of pressure to obtain convictions or fear of the police.
Abuse of power or abuse of process claims are related to the previous incident because these lawsuits allege a government entity is improperly using the legal process. A lawyer who is making out a claim for abuse of power usually needs to show that the court or government’s resources are being misused, there is an improper motive for this abuse such as protecting the police or retaliation against a criminal suspect, and that their actions caused harm to the plaintiff. This type of lawsuit is essentially meant to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system. Criminal justice resources are meant to be used to stop actual crime and not protect corruption within police departments or prosecute the innocent.
Get help after a traffic stop gone wrong
If you have been abused by police officers during a traffic stop in Taylor County Florida, please contact someone for help. There is an effective way to respond to police misbehavior, but it requires an experienced local lawyer.