Public perception matters.
Regaining public trust and support is on the minds of all police enforcement entities in these tense times across the United States. Outcries of police abuse are becoming louder and creating civil unrest, while claims of police exhibiting bias-based prejudice and “excessive force” behaviors leading to death and injury increase. Many departments are updating “use of force” policies, conducting de-escalation training and reaching out to communities in partner programs. A recent shooting in Gastonia showcases the need for outside assistance in regaining public trust through transparency of department actions after the shooting. In this case the State Bureau of Investigations carried out an independent investigation even though bodycam footage and witness reports were available and supported the officer actions to shoot. The District Attorney found that the victim was shot “three or four times,” and had raised his weapon before the officer fired.
Case law standard for evaluation of “excessive force.”
The 1989 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Graham v. Connor is the supporting “go to” case law regarding excessive force options for police officers. Police brutality actions involving excessive force can be a violation of civil rights, but force is necessary to keep communities safe in some circumstances and those actions by officers occur in split second decisions that could be the difference between life or death to someone. There must be a balance for ethical effective police presence in the community. The Graham ruling recognizes that an officer may use that amount of force which is reasonable and necessary based on a balance test where an officer’s actions are “objectively reasonable” given the “totality of the circumstances.” This means that the officer must consider what is often referred to as the “Graham Factors:”
- the severity of the crime at hand;
- immediate threat to officer, others or suspect based on criminal action;
- suspect is actively resisting arrest or fleeing the crime scene.
Accordingly, the Gastonia police officer acted reasonably given his circumstances.
Federal laws addressing police misconduct include criminal and civil statutes to cover officers’ action in their jurisdictions, 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.
Hire an attorney.
If you, or someone you love has been a victim of police brutality through excessive force, you should seek legal counsel to review the incident and guide you through your legal options. You may file a formal complaint to the police department itself, and further civil or criminal lawsuits with the court system if you have a strong case against the police brutality you have suffered. Contact J. Boyce Garland, Jr. Attorney at Law for experienced representation in an action for possible damages due to you for hospital/medical expenses; emotional distress, depression and anxiety; loss of enjoyment of life; physical pain and suffering; and wrongful death claims.
J. Boyce Garland, Jr., Law Offices
223 W. Main Avenue, Suite G
Gastonia, NC 28052