The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The amendment places limits on police conduct. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop a few cops from crossing the line.
This explains why “Can I sue the police department for violating my rights?” is a common question that people who have had negative encounters with police officers ask. The short answer is “yes.” It is within your constitutional rights to sue the police department for misconduct.
While it is not going to be easy to file a lawsuit against the police department, you shouldn’t feel intimidated or hopeless when a police officer violates your rights. In this post, we explore the options you have with regards to suing the police department and what you need to do to win the case.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about suing individual police officers or the police department.
When Can I Sue the Police Department?
As mentioned above, it is absolutely possible to sue an individual police officer or the police department because no one is above the law. Although police officers have powers to enforce the law, they must follow laid down guidelines and procedures in conducting their duties.
But it is no secret that some officers go too far when carrying out their duties violating the civil rights of citizens in the process. In such circumstances, victims have the right to seek legal redress through state and federal courts.
There are several examples of police misconduct, including harassment, false arrest, racial profiling, falsification of evidence, perjury, and police brutality. The most common forms of police misconduct include:
If you believe a police officer has subjected you to unfair harassment or discrimination, you can sue him/her. However, to sue an officer for discrimination or harassment, you must prove that there was a certain pattern of behavior other than a singular, isolated incident.
For instance, if the police officer has established a clear pattern of treating one group of people with undue force but not another group, you can claim that there has been a pattern of harassment and discrimination.
2. False arrest
False arrest is one of the most asserted claims against the police department. Individuals bringing forth this complaint argue that a police officer violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable arrest.
In case the officer had probable cause to believe you had committed a crime, the arrest is reasonable, and the Fourth Amendment has not been violated. Keep in mind that police officers have the right to arrest you without a warrant for a misdemeanor or felony committed in their presence. Some states also permit warrantless arrests for misdemeanor domestic assaults not committed in the police officer’s presence.
Even if the facts the cop relied on to make the arrest later turns out to be false, he/she will not be liable if there was reason to believe that the information was accurate at the time of the arrest.
To prevail in a false arrest claim, you must prove that the arresting officer lacked justifiable cause to arrest you. This means that the facts available were insufficient to cause any reasonable person to believe that a crime had been committed.
3. Use of excessive force
Use of excessive force is the most publicized form of police misconduct because such an act can cause severe physical injury or death. Whether the police officer’s use of excessive force was justified or not depends on the surrounding circumstances and facts.
Typically, the officer’s intentions and motivation will be critically evaluated to establish the validity of your claims. If the amount of force was reasonable (depending on the circumstances), it doesn’t matter if the officer’s intentions were good or bad.
Similarly, the opposite is true. If the officer had good intentions but ended up using excessive force to control the situation, he/she will have a case to answer.
4. Malicious prosecution
Malicious prosecution implies that a police officer wrongly deprived you of the right to liberty, as outlined in the Fourteenth Amendment. To win this type of claim, you must prove that the police officer commenced a criminal proceeding against you without any justifiable evidence.
You must also prove that the cases ended in your favor (there was no conviction) and that the proceeding was brought with pure malice against you.
Like false arrest, your case will not succeed if the officer can establish that he/she had reasonable cause to initiate criminal proceedings against you.
How to Sue a Police Officer/ Police Department
If you have had an encounter with a police officer and believe your rights were violated, there are a few things you need to do to build a strong foundation for your case.
First, you need to save all evidence that could help you prove what transpired during the incident. Photographs and video recordings can be powerful pieces of evidence in this context.
Once you have collected the evidence, speak to witnesses who were present during the incident, and convince a few of them to come out and help you prove your case against the police officer. A few witnesses who were present at the time of the incident may remember what happened and will play a critical role in strengthening your case.
Finally, hire an experienced civil rights attorney who assesses your case and advise you accordingly. The attorney will also evaluate your evidence and ensure it is properly preserved, and all witnesses are interviewed. The attorney will do everything to ensure your rights are protected and a complaint is filed on time.
It is critical to keep in mind that police departments have been known for protecting their own. Therefore, you should tread carefully when filing a lawsuit against a police officer for alleged misconduct.
As a general rule, hire an experienced civil rights attorney before taking any steps that may let the police officer know that you are considering suing him/her.