Van Zandt County has its own ordinances that regulate all kinds of behavior and business. These function concurrently with the Texas state and U.S. federal laws. While police brutality is technically illegal, both civil and criminal claims against a city or police department are typically brought under a few different state or federal civil rights laws.
Relevant laws governing official misconduct
Employees of the Van Zandt County Sheriff are subject to a number of state laws that govern their behavior, and the state of Texas does have some laws that cover abuse by public officials and government employees. Chapter 39 of the state penal code details all offenses relevant to abuse of public office and employment. Sections 39.03 and 39.04 outline the crimes of official oppression and violations of civil rights of someone in custody. These two sections basically say that a public servant is guilty of a crime when they subject someone to intentional mistreatment through acts such as false arrest or sexual assault when acting under the authority of their office. This can be applied to police officers who engage in various forms of misconduct and violence while they are on duty. The penalties for violations of these laws can be criminal misdemeanors of felonies depending on the specific nature of the act. Keep in mind that a felony is a crime that is punishable by more than one year of jail time, while misdemeanors can land someone in jail for less than a year.
Civil rights lawsuits
While these laws outline criminal penalties for police officers and other government employees that abuse their power, it is also important to remember that most police brutality lawsuits are filed as federal cases which allege violations of civil rights. This is done for a number of reasons.
First, civil lawsuits can be filed directly by the victim and their attorney. The criminal penalties mentioned previous can only be pursued at a prosecutor’s discretion. Even a citizen complaint against a police officer will not necessarily result in these charges being filed in all cases. Civil lawsuits really are the option that gives a victim the most control.
Second, a federal lawsuit that alleges violations of civil rights can make a claim for monetary damages. This essentially means that a victim of a police beating can add up the costs of their medical bills, missed time from work and lost wages, hospitalizations, medications, continued treatment, and other factors to ask for a certain amount of money from a jury. Even when police are held accountable through criminal laws or disciplined by their department, a separate civil lawsuit is still necessary when a victim wants to be compensated.
Finally, another strategic reason for filing a civil lawsuit as a way to hold the police accountable for their actions is that the burden of proof is lower in civil cases than in criminal cases. In a criminal case that attempts to discipline a police officer by sending them to jail, the state must prove that they abused their authority beyond all reasonable doubt. This is one of the highest burdens in the American judicial system. However, civil lawsuits require a much lower burden for a plaintiff to win a case against a defendant. When considering the burden of proof, it is much more likely that the police will be held responsible in a civil courtroom than convicted criminally.
Get legal help now
If you have been injured by the police anywhere in Van Zandt County or other nearby parts of Texas, a police brutality lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf. The Cooper Law Firm has offices in Longview, and their attorneys are experts at helping people with all kinds of injuries.