Important Information Regarding Your Rights and Recourse as a Victim of Police Brutality

Last year the NYPD paid out $69 million in police misconduct claims. In recent days, this number was punctuated by the scenes of New York City’s streets filled with police clad in riot gear wielding batons arresting mostly peaceful protestors, who were seen being shoved to the ground, beaten and kicked in the course of arrests. The problem was not limited to New York City. Extremely disturbing footage emerged of a Buffalo police officer pushing an elderly man backward onto the ground who then lies motionless as blood can be seen pooling around his head. While some of these officers may face internal discipline from their police departments, these actions have brought unprecedented attention to the excessive use of force by police.

Officers are never authorized to use excessive force. Excessive force is any force that is more than necessary to make an arrest or defend themselves. It does not matter if you were arrested. It does not matter if you were charged with a crime. It doesn’t even matter if you were convicted or plead guilty. You may still have a viable claim for civil rights violations and personal injuries resulting from police brutality. Officers are not empowered to assault protesters who have not engaged in any violent conduct. In fact, officers may still be held accountable for excessive use of force in situations where people have resisted arrest but were met with excessive force and/or beatings. Generally, the question will be presented to the jury whether the officer’s use of force was “excessive.” Because every case is unique, an attorney may be able to help you better evaluate whether the force used was excessive.

Were your rights violated?

While police officers in many circumstances may be protected by the doctrine of “qualified immunity” that prevents them being held personally responsible for law suits alleging excessive use of force, cities and states can often be held to account for these officers’ violent conduct and violations of peoples’ constitutional rights, specifically, the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable seizure.” These civil lawsuits are brought as claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Of course, the viability of any claim for excessive use of force or a violation of one’s civil rights is an extremely fact sensitive inquiry and will also largely depend on where and when the abuses occurred.

Time is critically important.

While as in any injury case documentation of the injuries and fast action to preserve evidence and locate witness is critical, the need is even more acute in cases against public entities. Most jurisdictions impose a very short window—often as little as 90 days—to serve the public entity responsible for an injury and/or civil rights violation with a “Notice of Claim.” Without serving a proper and timely notice on the appropriate governmental entity, any right to assert that claim will not be preserved absent extremely rare circumstances. Because this can be a confusing and crucial first step, it is important to consult with an attorney who has experience litigating cases against governmental entities.

If you are injured, seek immediate treatment.

If you have been shoved, beaten, or otherwise abused by police, it is important to quickly document your injuries to avoid the claim that they were caused by some other means. Though it is not unusual for even serious back, neck, shoulder or knee pain to increase over time, one of the first things the governmental entity will point out to discredit you is a delay in seeking medical attention. If you are unsure where to go or how to pay for medical treatment, an attorney can help provide you with resources that can make sure you get the proper treatment.

Asserting your rights.

By successfully asserting your rights in the event you are the victim of police brutality, not only are you vindicating yourself and possibly receiving monetary compensation, you are sending a very strong message to the city, state and the public that this type of misconduct will not be tolerated. Forcing governments to payout compensation to victims of police brutality can serve as an excellent catalyst for change. Police brutality is in no one’s best interest. Living in a capitalist society, it is all to clear that there is no language better spoken than that of “money.” Taxpayers should rightfully be outraged by the amounts that are spent by municipalities in settling these claims. One way to get that to stop is by demilitarizing and reforming police departments but this will only come with the support of the people. Unfortunately, common notions of fairness and justice do not motivate all people. That’s where the monetary incentive of police reform might just help turn the tide.