What do I do if I am the victim of police brutality?

There are a number of incidents in various parts of the United States each year where police abuse their authority by injuring someone, intimidating them, or committing a wrongful arrest. When this happens there are a few different things a victim can do to try to get help and make sure the officer responsible is punished.

Filing a formal complaint

The department should be notified of an officer’s misconduct so they can begin their own investigation. A division within the department or state called internal affairs is given the job of looking into misconduct by other police officers. Many of the cases they review are related to actions such as excessive use of force, harassment of suspects and witnesses, and planted evidence. Once a complaint is received, internal affairs will begin to review the accusations and anything that can prove misbehavior such as videos or photos of the incident. After their investigation, they will either sustain the allegations and issue some kind of formal discipline to the officer, or stop the process and not take any formal action if they believe there were no deviations from law enforcement protocols.

There are some limitations to contacting internal affairs. Because these departments are staffed by other police personnel, they generally do not punish cops who are accused unless there is very clear evidence of serious misconduct. In many cases, the officer who is accused may be briefly placed on leave while an investigation is ongoing, but receive no other real punishment. Other sanctions that they issue can include brief suspensions without pay, or moving an officer to desk duty. In some extreme cases, internal affairs may coordinate with a local prosecutor to file criminal charges against an officer who has injured or killed someone. 

Contacting a civil attorney    

In most cases, the best remedy available to victims of police brutality is to contact an attorney who can do their own investigation and file a lawsuit against the department that employs the officer. A police brutality lawyer will attempt to make the police pay for injuries and other losses such as missed time from work and hospitalization. While lawyers cannot guarantee any specific result, the process of bringing a civil case usually brings a better chance of the officer responsible getting into some kind of actual trouble and raising public awareness than leaving the situation in the hands of the government.   

Lawyers can bring cases under federal civil rights laws that say no government employee can abuse a member of the public while acting in their official capacity. This is applied to the local police as a segment of the government in a city, county, or state. After speaking with an attorney, you should have some basic information regarding the potential value of the lawsuit and how the case will proceed through the local courts. Keep in mind that the process to retain an attorney and bring a lawsuit can be done in addition to filing a formal complaint with the officer’s internal affairs department. 

Talk to a lawyer near you to learn more

There is an entire directory of lawyers who focuses on cases involving police misconduct. You can browse the listings on USAttorneys.com to find a local attorney in your state to assist you.  

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