Can You Sue the Police Department in California?

Anger, frustration and even rage and fury at the police by the average American citizen is at an all-time high. The use of excessive force and discriminatory practices against private citizens is no longer being tolerated. Though few officers, compared to the amount of police officers nationwide, behave in this manner it’s effects are widespread and damaging to the entire country. The most recent effect is the influx of private citizens pursuing legal proceedings against law enforcement for unlawful searches, seizures, arrests, detainments and abuse by police. While it is within a citizen’s rights to sue the police department, it must be a careful considered decision.

Why Sue the Police Department

People in this country are just as tired of frivolous lawsuits as they are police misconduct. The days of suing for any reason are over. A plaintiff must have a valid reason to sue police. A clear and obvious denial or infraction of a citizen’s civil rights must be present. It is also important to sue police if the dangers the plaintiff experienced by the police could possibly happen to another citizen. A civil duty is present to step up and stop a policeman who is violating procedure to the point of endangering the public he is worn to protect. Egregious errors must be prosecuted but frivolous lawsuits are not tolerated.

Qualified Immunity

Police are protected against lawsuits by the federal government. The term qualified immunity is used to name the shield public officials are entitled to against damages from civil liability. The only caveat is that no violation of a citizen’s statutory or constitutional rights which are clearly established can be present. Statutory rights are those given to a citizen by the local government and enforced by local law enforcement. Constitutional rights are those given by the federal government and are enforced by all law enforcement agencies in the country. A police officer may be able to avoid prosecution for violating a citizen’s federal constitutional rights, if those rights are not clearly spelled out by an established law.

Proving a Case Against Police

A successful case against the police department is a well-proven case against the police department. Charges against law enforcement are taken very seriously and as such, must accompany ample proof a crime was committed. Depending on the type of case, different approaches must be taken to prove it in court.

  • Discrimination and harassment – to prove discrimination or harassment of some type by police, a pattern of such behavior must be established. Claiming an officer is racial profiling or discriminating on some bias requires proof the officer has behaved in such a manner on other occasions to other citizens. One instance cannot be considered discrimination behavior.
  • False arrest – claiming false arrest asserts that the Fourth Amendment rights of an individual have been violated. The right of protection against unreasonable search and seizure can be violated and police cannot be protected from it. To win this type of case against police it must be proven that the police did not have probable cause and evidence was insufficient to warrant an arrest. There are some cases where police have not violated a person’s Fourth Amendment rights if they believed they had probable cause but did not.
  • Excessive force – proving an excessive force claim is difficult as there is no hard and fast rule to determine the definition. It is up to the victim to prove the use of force was excessive in their situation. The victim in these cases is often dead or suffering serious injury and the case is pursued by family or the state.

Steps to Suing the Police

Suing the police is a long, arduous task that takes much skill and experience. The initial step in any case is to consult with a qualified civil rights attorney who can tell you what you need to know about your case and chances of winning in court. Preserving evidence and documenting everything that pertains to the incident is vital. Take pictures, keep and preserve clothing and all items resent during the incident, and secure witnesses who say the altercation and alleged abuse. Hire a qualified attorney to help you file complaints with the police department as well as the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney General’s office.

Being abused by a police officer is as traumatic mentally as it harmful physically. It leaves you feeling helpless and afraid of your own environment. There are options for citizens who find themselves abused by police. A qualified attorney can help you get your life back to normal.

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