Can you sue a police officer for misconduct?

Can you sue a police officer for misconduct?

Can you sue a police officer for misconduct?

Paul Sander – Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Rachelle Jackson. Names that you’ve probably heard of, unfortunately, because their lives were brutally taken by officers sworn to uphold the law. Law enforcement is supposed to serve and protect us, so we are traumatized, betrayed, and angry when they break that trust.

And of course we need hardly mention the tragedy of what the world saw in the killing of George Floyd, with horrifying video evidence that spread across the internet and our television screens and has now prompted hundreds of other incidents and videos documenting violent tactics by police.

There has been major awareness of police violence with officers in Atlanta charged with an attack upon college students, along with other charges against police officers.

But it is not just the horrific violence of something like the Floyd killing that involves police misconduct, but a wide range of other, lesser (but still important) civil rights violations.

And there are plenty of examples.

A recent report in USA Today recorded 85,000 police officers investigated for misconduct. The records obtained by the newspaper came from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors, police departments and sheriffs and detailed over 200,000 incidents involved alleged misconduct. The results of the complaints showed that more than 30,000 police officers were decertified by 44 oversight agencies.

The newspaper has also listed the 30,000 officers who were de-certified for public searches.

What is police misconduct?

It doesn’t matter if an officer is on or off duty. As long as they’re acting or claiming to act in their official capacity, they are under the authority of the Department of Justice. Police misconduct is a misdemeanor unless any of the following occurred:

  • The police officer threatened attempted to use or used a weapon
  • The police officer caused bodily injury to the victim
  • The police officer kidnapped or attempted to kidnap the victim
  • The police officer successfully or attempted to sexually assault the victim
  • The police officer used or tried to use any explosive
  • The police officer’s actions resulted in the victim’s death

Law enforcement officers are allowed to stop people and ask them very simple questions if the need arises. This need has to be something significant, compelling, and factual, otherwise known as having “probable cause.” But in order to enter premises, arrest a suspect or search someone’s vehicle, they must ask for consent.

According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the government only has probable cause to make an arrest when the facts and circumstances, according to the best and most accurate information law enforcement have, would lead a reasonable person to believe that the alleged criminal had committed or was committing a crime.

If your property was searched without your consent or warrant, and there was no probable cause, then you are a victim of police misconduct.

For example, if a citizen is walking in a public place like a park, what can the police do or ask of you?

They are allowed to stop you and ask you simple questions, and you have the constitutional right to remain silent. They do not have the right to frisk you or pat you down unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you have, are currently or will engage in criminal activity in the future.

However it is just such bland and everyday occurrences that have lead to multiple complaints of misconduct by police who have overstepped their legal mark.

What Types of Police Misconduct?

There are many different types of misconduct. All of these examples are illegal and unethical. Constitutional violations by law enforcement authors must be investigated and, upon showing strong and undeniable evidence, strongly prosecuted.

Moves to increase the transparency of police powers and the manner in which police power is exercised have increased in recent times following in particular the George Floyd killing.

On June 5, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) said that legislation would be introduced that would institute a number of reforms, including the creation of the first national, publicly searchable database of law enforcement officers who have engaged in inappropriate use of force or discrimination. 

However, it is not only police officers who must face appropriate oversight as to misconduct investigations or complaint.

Police officers are not the only ones who can face allegations of police misconduct. In addition to them, cases of misconduct have included:

  • Correctional officers
  • Prosecutors
  • Probation officers
  • Judges
  • Jailers
  • Other federal, state or local law enforcement officials

Using A Civil Rights Attorney

What is necessary to do by a civil rights attorney who might be involved in such complaint action against police or others involved in law enforcement duties? In order to establish a claim, your attorney will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • That the police officer violated the victim’s rights protected by the U.S. Constitution or other laws 
  • The police officer did so willingly
  • The police officer was acting under their title as an officer.

The need for a civil lawsuit in respect of cases of police misconduct, including police brutality, false arrest, wrongful death and other civil rights violations are deserved of both care and the use of attorneys with a strong reputation for handling such cases.

Lawyer Najmi has recovered millions of dollars for civil rights victims and their families and notes that many people confuse civil rights and civil liberties, often using the two terms interchangeably. But the difference is important, he notes, and stresses the need for citizens to be fully aware of their civil rights and when they are infringed, be it by police misconduct or some other violation of a key civil right protected by federal law.


Law Office of Ali Najmi, Civil Rights Attorneys, Madison Avenue, New York

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