It has become commonplace to read scandalous news headlines or see television stations reporting on the unethical acts of police officers, as government employees who take an oath to serve and protect the communities in which they work and live.  Excessive force is a common type of police brutality.  Law officers are allowed the “use of force” including hands, batons, tasers, or other weapons when necessary, and in accordance with officer training and department policy, to remove the threat of violence by subduing criminals, and inmates in correctional facilities and jails.  This broad-based authority given to police 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 subjective to the instance when force is warranted.  The state of Florida has to give a certain amount of discretionary authority regarding reasonable force to prison guards so that they can maintain the prison system, with the main objective of keeping the inmates safe.  Every consideration should be given tailored specifically to each police encounter, basing the use of force directly on the resistance of the criminal.

Officer Considerations When Applying Force Include.

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. Size, age, relative strength, skill-level, and physical condition of both parties.

6.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,
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.

Walton County Florida Correctional Officer Fired.

A corrections officer in Walton County Florida has been fired due to the use of excessive force resulting in battery charges for assault on an inmate at the Walton County Jail.  The Sheriff’s office immediately terminated Lieutenant Michael Blizzard after two of his co-workers stepped forward to report his misconduct and unethical behavior after he struck the inmate several times without cause enough to use the amount of force he used during an encounter at the Walton County Jail.  The use of excessive force is a violation of civil rights laws that are in place to protect citizens against arbitrary and negative action that deprives them of their liberty and life pursuits without the due processes of the law and includes rights to incarcerated persons.  Unfortunately, there are some correctional officers who abuse their authority and power to assault inmates as in this case. Inmate abuse occurs when prison officials use unnecessary and excessive force or commit sexual assault upon the prisoner. Assaults can be of violent or sexual nature, violent assaults occur more often than sexual assaults, but both can leave lasting physical, psychological and emotional damage.  The two types of assaults on prisoners can be violent assault which is the more common, and sexual assault.

Violent assault is committed by correctional officers through needless beating, hitting, kicking or striking of a prisoner. The officer’s unnecessary or excessive use of a weapon upon a defenseless inmate is a typical example. These attacks can cause lacerations, broken bones, internal injuries, disfigurement, brain or spinal cord damage and even death. The incidence of sexual assault from correctional officers is greater in detention centers than the public thinks, the National Inmate Survey reveals that 4.4 percent of prison and jail inmates report being sexually victimized in the past 12 months. Sexual abuse can occur verbally or through physical contact, although verbal sexual abuse is extremely difficult to prove rarely leading to recovery of damages. Sexual abuse can also result in severe physical injury.

Inmates tolerate verbal and physical assaults as a fact of prison life and should remember that the officers are there to secure their safety.  They have to know they have some power to protect themselves in situations of abuse of power, and the ability to bring a personal injury lawsuit to protect their right and receive compensation for the damages they sustain resulting from unethical actions of corrections officers.

Federal laws addressing police misconduct include criminal and civil statutes to cover officers’ action in State, county and local jurisdictions including prisons and jails.

Title 18 of the United States Code makes it illegal for law enforcement to intentionally keep or conspire to keep citizens from expressing or invoking any of their rights that are protected by the Constitution or United States law. Title 18 of the United States Code can be applied to many forms of police brutality, including but not limited to intimidation, excessive lethal force, sexual assaults, excessive physical force, and the use of pepper spray in an improper manner. Under Title 18, the law, however, does not allow for citizens to file civil suits against police for financial motives.

Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act is another law that helps citizens who have faced police brutality. Under Title 6, the statute states that it is illegal for local and state law enforcement officers to discriminate against citizens based on their ethnicity, nationality, gender,  and/or religion.

The Americans With Disabilities Act created legal protections against police brutality and/or police discrimination for individuals with disabilities. The ADA generally could be applied to situations in which racial slurs, unjustified detainment, the use of excessive force, and/or racial profiling occurred towards individuals who have some form of a disability.

Florida State Law on Justifiable Force.

The 2018 Florida Statutes Chapter 776 outlines the law on “Justifiable Use of Force” as it pertains to Police Officer activity in Section 776.05 whereby an officer is justified in the use of any force: 1) which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary to defend himself or herself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest; 2) when necessarily committed in retaking felons who have escaped; or 3) when necessarily committed in arresting felons fleeing from justice.

However, this subsection shall not constitute a defense in any civil action for damages brought for the wrongful use of deadly force unless the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by such flight and, when feasible, some warning had been given, and:

(a) The officer reasonably believes that the fleeing felon poses a threat of death or serious physical harm to the officer or others; or (b) The officer reasonably believes that the fleeing felon has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm to another person.

The court will base the facts of the case on the specific situation and laws that support the claim of abuse of power and excessive force.  The causes of action that can be taken in this type of lawsuit against the State include: 1) assault, 2) deprivation of civil rights, 3) negligent ownership, maintenance, supervision and security at prison, and 4) negligent hiring and retention of incompetent personnel.

Under the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals who have suffered effects from police brutality or experienced police brutality can file a civil lawsuit.  If you, or someone you know, who has been incarcerated is suffering at the hands of a corrections officer, immediately contact a Civil Rights & Personal Injury legal professional who might be able to help you manage your damages.  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 or excessive use of force.

Sources:

http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2018/776.05

https://www.justice.gov/crt/addressing-police-misconduct-laws-enforced-department-justice

https://www.usconstitution.net/xconst_Am4.html

https://codes.findlaw.com/us/title-18-crimes-and-criminal-procedure/18-usc-sect-924.html

https://www.justice.gov/crt/fcs/TitleVI-Overview