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Police Brutality
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New York Police Brutality Lawyers

Everyone has seen the shocking videos of police brutality and misconduct on TV over the past few years. Arguments over the underlying causes and possible corrections will no doubt go on for many more years. For those who have suffered from police brutality or excessive force, a remedy is needed now. Regardless of the justification or excuse for police misconduct, police use of excessive force is never appropriate.

If you believe you have been the victim of police brutality, you should know what your legal options are. Contact the New York police brutality attorneys of Burns & Harris Attorneys At Law at 800-724-6529 if you experienced excessive force or believe your rights were violated during a police encounter.

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Police Brutality Under the Law

Police misconduct can slip under the public’s radar because police officers are permitted to use reasonable force when dealing with suspects. They are allowed to escalate their use of force if the suspect escalates, up to the use of lethal force if necessary. The current NYPD use of force policy describes how that agency allows officers to use force and the standards that should be used to assess a situation.

This does not mean that each officer will always adhere to the policy. The standard of review in a police disciplinary case is “objectively reasonable,” meaning that any officer in a similar situation would have done the same thing. Because nobody wants to be arrested, some force is inevitable when a suspect is taken into custody. That does not excuse any excessive behavior on the part of police officers.

Verbal force

Police officers are trained in the use of “command voice” to obtain control of a situation. This sometimes sounds like yelling. It is a violation if the officer demeans, belittles, or directs hate speech at a suspect.

Physical force

If a suspect refuses to obey lawful commands, officers are permitted to use “reasonable force” to subdue the person. Force becomes unreasonable if the subject has already submitted or if it involves more force than needed to control the subject. For instance, a suspect must be taken to the ground to be put into handcuffs for everyone’s safety. Slamming a suspect’s head into the ground to achieve this would be unreasonable.

Terry stops

The Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio established that a police officer might stop a person and perform a pat-down of the exterior of their clothing if the officer “reasonably believes” that person represents a danger to the community. The notorious stop-and-frisk” policy of NYPD during the early 2000s attempted to expand this into stopping anyone an officer felt necessary. This was struck down in 2013 by Floyd v. City of New York.

This may lap over into unlawful search and seizure. Under the 4th Amendment, police must have a lawful warrant to search a person or their property and to take anything found during the search. There are a number of legal exceptions to this requirement. If the officer uses a pretext stop to search and then takes any evidence, this is known as an unlawful search and is a civil rights violation.

Mishandling of evidence

Both planting evidence to bolster a case and destroying evidence to cover up their own misconduct is a crime if the police officer does it intentionally. This can also include “testilying,” when an officer claims that the evidence was found on the suspect when it was found next to the suspect or in a backpack.

Assault and battery

Battery is any unwanted or uninvited contact. Because people would prefer not to be arrested, officers are allowed to make contact with subjects to arrest them. Contact by an officer in any other context, especially when coupled with verbal threats, may be assault and battery. For instance, an officer who shouts at a bystander to stop filming and then knocks the camera from their hands commits assault and battery even if it was not related to the actual arrest.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to police misconduct. Victims should bear in mind that any single incident may not be “police brutality” unless the conduct was especially egregious. If a suspect was drunk and fought with police, a few bruises would not be indicative of brutality. However, if the suspect suffered more extensive injuries or if the officer had a history of similar actions against handcuffed suspects, brutality would be easier to prove.

Abuse of Authority and Civil Rights Violations

Police officers are granted wide latitude to carry out their duties. Society grants them this authority so that criminals can be arrested and the rest of us can be safe. If a police officer or department takes advantage of this trust, it is called “abuse of authority.” It can be misconduct, but it may also be a civil rights violation.

Abuse of authority may be difficult for the average person to prove because the abuse is often known or condoned by the police administration. A federal law, 42 U.S.C. 1983, provides citizens with recourse if an officer violates their rights under color of authority.

Besides the personal injuries suffered above, other abuse of authority violations can include:

Sexual misconduct

The old cliché of a cop offering to let a prostitute go for a “price” is not always a cliché. Officers sometimes threaten suspects or even carry out the act, believing nobody will believe the suspect or that nobody will learn of the act. This type of misconduct can also include sexual touching during a search, threats or acts towards witnesses or bystanders, and in-office misconduct between co-workers.

Use and misuse of weapons

The wrongful or questionable shooting has become the standard for police brutality. There are state and local guidelines for the use of lethal force, which should only happen if the suspect poses “an imminent threat of serious physical injury.” Misuse of weapons can also include:

Use of tasers as a coercive device

The taser should only be deployed in situations where a firearm would be the alternative. It should never be used to punish or terrorize a suspect.

Pepper spray or mace

Chemical weapons should not be used as coercive or punitive devices. Spraying a suspect in the back of a closed cruiser is an example of such misuse.

Batons, handcuffs, and leg restraints

Unfortunately, some suspects really don’t want to be arrested, and for everyone’s safety, they need to be restrained. However, this should never be done if the subject is complying or even being verbally abusive to the officer.

Misuse of station facilities or “false arrest”

Accusing a police officer of false arrest is difficult because their job is to detain and confine potential wrongdoers. However, the officer should have a reasonable belief that the person did, in fact, commit some crime. Leaving a subject in a cell or cruiser to “think about it” or in detention for any period beyond that required for a reasonable investigation can become false arrest, but more importantly, it is abuse under color of authority.

Something should be said of police handling of mentally ill or disabled individuals. Shouting, screaming, or abusing anyone is heinous enough, but there are instances of officers berating and abusing individuals who are unable to comprehend what is being demanded of them. Shouting at a hearing-impaired individual is useless. Belittling or taunting someone who is mentally disabled is not only cruel but is also a gross violation of authority.

Officers and defenders sometimes attempt to explain that they are not given sufficient training to deal with mentally ill or disabled subjects, but this does not excuse excessive force being used against them.

Have You Been a Victim of Police Brutality?

If you believe you have been the victim of police misconduct, you need to act quickly. Time is not on your side. Before you can bring legal action against a police officer or agency, you or your attorney must submit a Notice of Claim. This notice must be filed within 90 days of the injury. If you miss this deadline, you may lose all rights to sue for your injury.

If you believe you or a loved one have been the victim of police brutality or misconduct, you should contact an attorney whose practice focuses on this type of injury right away. An attorney will review the case and file the Notice of Claim so that your case can proceed. Even if you later decide not to pursue the case, the Notice of Claim needs to be filed.

Our legal team will carry out an investigation of your claim, locate witnesses, and consolidate the information into a cohesive case. If your civil rights have been violated, we may recommend you file a federal 1983 suit. A federal lawsuit has different requirements than a state or local case, and our attorneys can bring your case before the proper court.

Contact Burns & Harris Attorneys At Law at 800-724-6529 as soon as you believe you have been a victim of police misconduct or complete the intake form on our website, and one of our legal staff will reach out to you. We want to be sure you receive fair compensation and justice for your case. Call us today for help.

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