Highlands County Florida is a small county near central Florida with a population of about 98,786 from 2018/19 data where over half of the residents are women, and 80% are white individuals.  The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office protects citizens in the towns of Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is used as a guide to police activity with regard to the main areas of police brutality including:

  • Excessive Force – utilizing more physical force than necessary to subdue a criminal causing bodily harm or death.
  • False Arrest and Wrongful Imprisonment – unlawful restraint of a person’s freedom of movement by another acting in perceived accordance with the law.
  • Wrongful Search and Seizure Activity – protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures” notwithstanding probable cause enabling a search warrant.
  • Racial and Gender Discrimination – bias-based policing is the intentional practice by an individual law enforcement officer who incorporates prejudicial judgments based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, religious beliefs, or age that are inappropriately applied in the performance of his/her duties.

How much force is too much force?

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.  Police 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.  However, 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 often subjective to the instance when force is used.

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.

Excessive Force and Arrest.

In a past complaint of the Highlands County Police Department, a women claims she was met with excessive force and unnecessary arrest for “closing a door in an officers face and pulling away when he grabbed her upon entering a family member’s home.”  Officers must be able to support arrests with facts and circumstances of reasonable suspicion or probable cause for an arrest to occur.  What is the remedy for this type of brutal behavior during a regular day with children playing outside in a family neighborhood.  Children were present during this incident and it had to be a traumatic event to what their mother be dragged away in handcuffs.  There may have been some value to Police De-Escalation Training in this incident.

De-escalation Training is Not Mandatory in Florida.

What is de-escalation training? The Department of Justice defines “de-escalation” as “the strategic slowing down of an incident in a manner that allows officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility during dynamic situations on the street.”  Training methods for police officers include:

1) Listen respectfully. Don’t argue or interrupt. People calm down when they feel they are being listened to and taken seriously.

2) Crowd control. Don’t allow an audience to gather. If two people are having an argument, isolate them from friends or family members to reduce aggressive behavior.

3) Courteous example. Use courteous, professional language to uphold the idea that talk must be calm and respectful.

4) Body language. Be aware not to use intimidating body movements.

5) Control encounter. Reduce offensive speech, cursing, and yelling by explaining that acceptable language would more likely get the point across.

6) Don’t publicly humiliate anyone—especially when others are watching. Be respectful of embarrassing questions and pat downs.

7) Don’t waste time and energy trying to convince a citizen that he’s wrong and you’re right. Do what you need to do without becoming defensive.

8) Remember that “broken record” is a useful way to achieve two goals—conveying the message that you’re in charge while keeping the lid on a potential conflict. “Broken record” means repeating a message as many times as needed: “I’m writing a citation. You’ll have an opportunity to state your case in court.” If a citizen argues, you refuse to take the bait. You simply repeat your message until the citation is written and your job is done.

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. 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.

Under various federal and state laws, individuals who have suffered the negative effects of police brutality or experienced police brutality first-hand a civil lawsuit may give you remedy against that incident. If you feel you have been a victim of excessive force by a police officer in the Highlands County area, you should seek professional legal help to file a claim and have them review your case to see if you can sue for 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.

Sources:

http://www.highlandssheriff.org/community_relations/docs/Bias_Based_Profiling_Brochure__0811_2.pdf

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://virtualacademy.com/police-training-for-de-escalating-conflicts/#.XH1sr4hKjIU

https://www.apmreports.org/story/2017/05/05/police-de-escalation-training

http://govred.com/blog/deescalation-training-state-requirements/

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