The video of protests that have erupted around the country since the death of George Floyd include scenes of police using force that is excessive and unlawful. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against police forces nationwide. More are expected.
Civil lawsuits against police cost municipalities (i.e., taxpayers) nearly $300 million in 2019, according to a report from ABC News. Police brutality and false arrest are among the most common claims in these cases, but there are numerous other ways that police abuse their power.
Types of police misconduct
Witness tampering – This occurs when someone attempts to improperly influence, change or prevent the testimony of a witness. The mere attempt to alter the testimony of a witness is a federal crime, even if it is unsuccessful.
Planting evidence – Police have been so zealous about getting a conviction or forcing a guilty plea in some cases they have fabricated evidence. Similarly, police have presented false testimony and destroyed evidence. The penalties for any of these crimes is severe.
False arrest – Police cannot physically detain someone without the legal right to do so. Force is not necessary, and private citizens (such as security guards) can face charges of false arrest.
Racial profiling – Amnesty International reports that racial profiling by police is a serious human rights issue that affects millions of people in the U.S. in the most routine aspects of their daily life. According to the American Psychological Association, effects on victims of racial profiling include post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of stress-related disorders.
Failure to intervene – A police officer has a duty to protect individuals from violations of their constitutional rights. If they see another officer doing so and do not act to stop it, they may be liable to the victim.
Proving police misconduct
Victims of police misconduct may feel it’s impossible to prove actions by police exceeded their authority. It is challenging because police have a lot of discretion in carrying out their duties. However, armed with the right information and with assistance from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, it is possible to prove police misconduct occurred.
Record everything you remember about the police encounter as soon as possible after it occurs. Write down as much as you can recall, including what was said. If possible, get the names and contact information of any witnesses. Ask them to also write down what they saw.
If you were injured in the encounter, take photos of the injuries and have them treated by a medical professional. Using your smartphone camera, capture any other physical evidence at the scene that may be important.
The widespread outrage over recent killings of minorities by police in several states has resulted in impactful police reform, including an end to qualified immunity that allows police to evade convictions on criminal charges. It is important for citizens to report violations of their civil rights by law enforcement officers.