California’s police misconduct lawsuit payoffs are high- profile and expensive. For example, Iraq War vet, Scott Olsen, was protesting in Oakland California in 2011 when a beanbag round shot by police struck him in the head. He received irreparable brain damage. Oakland settled the ensuing police civil lawsuit for $4.5 million.
In 2013, Los Angeles settled for $4.2 million when officers shot two women delivering newspapers by mistake. They were involved in an early morning manhunt for a violent former cop, Christopher Dorner. They mistook the women’s car for the suspects and opened fire. While the department first described the incident as a tragic mistake, it was later found the eight officers involved violated policy during the incident. Discipline for the officers involved in the case was handled within the department.
The movie Fruitvale Station was inspired by the shooting death of Oscar Grant III. He was killed by gunshot from police while handcuffing him in a subway in the Bay area. The officer responsible claimed he pulled his weapon on mistake. He meant to pull his taser. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. His young daughter and mother received settlements over one million dollars each.
The infamous Rodney King police beating and ensuing lawsuit may be the first of such high-dollar lawsuits but it also illustrates the problem most clearly. Police have a wide range of powers with which to carry out their duties but the Constitution of the United States places limits on how law enforcement can proceed in their efforts to enforce the laws. These limits, if breached, allow private citizens to seek legal recourse if police violate their rights or act beyond the scope of their job.
Government immunity most often protects the actions of police officers on the job. Basically, government immunity means the government cannot be sued unless they give the OK. The only way this happens is if the powers that be deem the police officer in question acted outside the scope of his job. Simply pulling someone over for questioning, even if it is upsetting, is not outside the officer’s job description. If any illegal searching, accosting or verbal abuse occurs, there may be reason to sue.
Government can refuse to be sued. This seems unfair but there are state and federal laws which allow victims of police misconduct to sue and receive monetary reward. The main legal basis for citizen lawsuits against police are based on 42 US Code, Section 1983. This section was passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. It was first intended to protect the rights of African American citizens during post Civil War eras. It allows those who have been wronged by a government official to sue. A violation of civil rights must have occurred, however.
False imprisonment, false arrest, excessive use of force and malicious prosecution are the most common claims brought against the state. False arrest claims assert police lacked probable cause for an arrest. There must be enough irrefutable facts to believe a crime was committed to institute probable cause. Malicious prosecution occurs when legal action ensues without probable cause established and in place. Excessive force claims assert that the police officers used more force than was needed in the commission of an arrest. This can occur even if there is good reason for the arrest.
Police misconduct claims in California are a complicated affair. They must be pursued accurately and in a specific time frame. A notice of claim for false arrest and/or false imprisonment must be filed within six months of the occurrence. A notice of claim informs the government that you intend to sue. You can only file a lawsuit after a notice of claim has been filed.