We take on police-misconduct cases that range from false arrests to charges that aren’t warranted by the evidence at all, which are sometimes brought in retaliation for exercise of rights, such as the First Amendment right to free speech. Cases range from those all the way through the use of excessive force, including deadly force and wrongful death. We typically take cases in which victims of police misconduct have experienced some serious harm.
What Are Some Examples of Police-Brutality Cases?
Unfortunately, as a society, we are starting to learn more about police brutality as more citizens have access to video cameras in their cellphones. Even though police abuses have been taking place for a long time, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the circumstances in which officers use excessive force. Take, for example, the situation with Eric Garner in New York, who was selling loose cigarettes. It was a petty offense and perhaps, at most, a citation should have been given. But the idea of grabbing and manhandling someone to the ground, to the point where he can’t breathe, is excessive.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. Included among unreasonable searches and seizures are instances of the use of excessive force. The Supreme Court has held that police officers, although they have the right to make lawful arrests, do not have the right to use excessive force in apprehending suspects. Courts will give a great deal of deference to police officers in using an amount of force proportionate to the situation, but there are circumstances where courts will deem force excessive. An example of that is where there is no threat to the officer or to the public and yet the officer uses deadly force. That is illegal and it is considered an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
Is Taser or Stun-Gun Use Considered a Violation of My Civil Rights or Excessive Force?
The use of a Taser or a stun gun can be considered an application of excessive force. You have to keep in mind that one of the reasons police departments started purchasing and using Tasers and stun guns was to avoid using more deadly force, like their guns. What happens is that sometimes the Tasers and stun guns are being used when they don’t need to be used. They can result in serious injury or death to the individuals who are shocked by them. There are many examples around the country of people who died when a stun gun or a Taser was used against them, so it all depends on the circumstances in which the Taser is used.
If the Taser is being used to subdue someone who is acting violently, courts are likely to permit the Taser use, even if the person who had been stunned by the Taser wound up being seriously injured or died. It all depends on the individual facts and circumstances, as to whether or not the Taser use is appropriate.
How Does a Court Determine Whether Excessive or Deadly Force Was Ever Justified?
Civil court cases involving excessive force are incredibly difficult to pursue. First of all, the legal standard is difficult. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that we are not permitted to second guess police officers using 20/20 hindsight. What matters is the objective reasonable belief of the officer at the scene, in that moment. An officer who reasonably perceives that he or she is under threat or that other members of the public are under threat, is permitted to use force up through deadly force. It all depends on the nature of the threat. The standard is “objective reasonableness.” If the officer perceives that he or she is under threat, even if it is because the officer has PTSD from service in Iraq, that subjective belief is considered legally irrelevant. (Although we see increasingly conservative courts apply a subjective standard of whatever the officer claimed was going through his mind—even if it’s not reasonable—rather than the objective standard.)
If there is video of the situation, it really helps. Increasingly, we see dashcam video and bodycam video from the officers, which enables us to establish whether the use of force was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. It helps our firm screen out a lot of cases where family members of people who have succumbed to police violence come to us believing that something illegal took place against their loved one but when we obtain the footage and we review it, we determine that it doesn’t cross the “objectively reasonable” standard.
Sometimes, on the other hand, when we review these videos, we are able to establish that the use of force was excessive. Having undeniable proof really helps.
For more information on police-misconduct cases in Ohio, and elsewhere, please call our office today at (216) 578-1700 and speak with one of our intake specialists, or fill out our online contact form.