Police are supposed to be trained to use force only when necessary, and if they must use force to use only the amount of force that is reasonable for the given situation. Unfortunately, the headlines are full of stories in Pennsylvania and elsewhere where law enforcement crossed the line, resulting in unnecessary injury or death.
The fact is that many police officers receive little training. Others simply don’t have the right temperament to carry a badge and wear the uniform, and are too quick to engage in violence against the citizens they have sworn to protect. The result is police brutality, the most common form of reported police misconduct today.
What Constitutes Police Brutality?
To determine whether the use of force by a police officer was necessary, courts apply the “reasonable officer” standard by asking, “Would a reasonable officer in the same situation have deemed it necessary to use force?” For example, if a person being arrested is verbally complaining about his situation but is otherwise complying with the officer’s instruction, then any force – using a baton, pepper spray, a Taser, or some other tactic – would likely not be justified.
If that same person begins pushing the officer, becomes violent, or tries to run away, then force may become necessary. But those actions don’t give an officer license to use any type or amount of force. If an officer uses more than what is reasonable, it is considered excessive force. For example, if an officer keeps a suspect in a chokehold long after he has been subdued and the suspect passes out, that could be deemed excessive – and unlawful.
The reasonable officer rule applies to the use of deadly force as well. In the case of a fleeing suspect, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an officer can use deadly force if he reasonably believes that “the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
How Does the Law Protect Victims of Police Brutality?
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives people the right to be protected from police brutality and other civil rights abuses. Under the law, a victim whose Fourth Amendment rights have been violated may bring a suit against the officer or officers involved, along with the city, county, or state government agency that employs them. If victims prove their claims in court, a judge or jury may award compensation for lost income, medical bills, and other related expenses, as well as pain and suffering and emotional distress. In the worst cases, punitive damages may be available.
Speak with an Experienced Police Brutality Lawyer
If you believe you’ve been the victim of police brutality, you need to talk to an experienced civil rights attorney who can review your case and help you determine the best course of action for pursing your rights. By doing so, you may be helping to protect other citizens and stopping abuse of police power.