Police brutality legal claims often cite civil rights violations as a reason for action against law enforcement officers and/or police departments.  Many originate from a claim of bias-based profiling leading to violations of constitutional and/or civil rights. Some examples of civil rights violations relevant to police misconduct include:

False imprisonment.

Fourteenth Amendment – A false imprisonment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection against deprivations of liberty without due process of law. If a law enforcement officer does not have probable cause to make an arrest, a victim can make a false imprisonment claim based on the confinement. This type of claim is grounded in the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable seizures. To state a false imprisonment claim, a victim must establish:

1) the common law elements for false imprisonment:

  • intent to confine;
  • acts resulting in confinement; and
  • victim was conscious of the confinement or resulting harm; and

2) the imprisonment resulted in a violation of a victim’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Police can arrest without a warrant for a felony or misdemeanor committed in their presence, and in the case of domestic assaults not committed in an officer’s presence in some states. If the police relied upon false information for the arrest, the officer will not be liable if he thought it was true at the time of arrest.  A victim must be able to prove that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest.

Illegal search and seizure, and excessive force.

Fourth Amendment – The Fourth Amendment gives an individual the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” An arrest is a seizure. Courts will examine the case to determine if probable cause was evident for a reasonable action of arrest. Probable cause exists when law enforcement officials have adequate facts and circumstances within their knowledge to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect had committed or was committing a crime. If an officer makes a mistake of fact, probable cause may still exist if the mistake is objectively reasonable and they relied on those facts to arrest. An officer who arrests an individual without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment. The existence of probable cause at the time of arrest, however, constitutes an absolute bar to a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for false arrest.

Excessive force claims receive the most publicity because they often end up with  serious physical injury or death. Individual circumstances based upon facts will determine whether an officer’s use of force was reasonable. If the amount of force was reasonable, it doesn’t matter if an officer’s intentions were bad.  Conversely, if an officer had good intentions, but used unreasonable force, the excessive force claim will not be dismissed.

Transparency.

First Amendment rights are violated if an officer tries to stop an individual, or individuals from recording a law enforcement encounter, and the actions they take to do so are repressed by the police involved in the encounter.

Failure to intervene.

Officers have a duty to protect individuals from constitutional violations by fellow officers. Therefore, an officer who witnesses a fellow officer violating an individual’s constitutional rights may be liable to the victim for failing to intervene.

In order to win a civil rights claim, an individual bringing a police misconduct claim must prove that the actions of the police exceeded reasonable bounds, disregarded a victim’s constitutional rights, and created harm, or damages to the victim such as lasting physical and emotional injury, or wrongful death.  An attorney who is experienced in constitutional law and police brutality actions may be able to advise.

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