Police officers have special responsibilities. These duties even apply when a person is being arrested by a fellow police officer. For example, a cop can’t just stand by and watch while another cop beats someone up. Police officers have a duty to prevent their fellow cops from abusing their authority. They can’t be do-nothings. Otherwise they are complicit in violations of constitutional rights. If a police officer stands by and watches another officer commit unnecessary violence or break the law, this is a crime. It is called “failure to intervene”. I will discuss failure to intervene in greater detail on this page.
Consider this situation: Two police officers are arresting a person for simple drug possession. Without warning, one of the cops starts to repeatedly punch the arrestee in the ribs. The arrestee is handcuffed and cannot defend himself. The other police officer just stands nearby and watches the beating. Nothing to see here, right? The first cop broke the law and used excessive force. But what about the second cop? Shouldn’t the second cop have done something to stop the harm?
Answer: YES. The second police officer failed to intervene to stop the harm. The person who was beaten has a claim for police brutality against the first officer, but also has a claim against the second officer for a crime called “failure to intervene”.
Under the law, police officers have an affirmative obligation to protect members of the public from civil rights violations perpetrated by other police officers when they have a reasonable chance to intervene.
Police officers can be held liable for a failure to intervene when:
(1) There is a realistic opportunity to prevent the harm;
(2) A reasonable person would know that police are violating a person’s civil rights; and
(3) The police officer failed to do anything to stop it.
How about this scenario: Two police officers are arresting a person for simple drug possession. The police officers are struggling to get the suspect handcuffed. Without warning, one of the police officers draws his gun and in the same motion shoots the suspect once in the foot. Did the second officer fail to intervene?
Answer: NO. There was no reasonable opportunity to do anything to prevent the harm. It happened too quickly. Under this scenario, the second police officer is not liable for failure to intervene. The first cop is, of course, responsible for the unlawful shooting.
If you believe that you have been harmed by one police officer’s misconduct, and another police officer knew about it but failed to do anything, you may have the right to file a lawsuit for money damages against both police officers. If you are not sure how to do this, you can contact an attorney for help. To speak with an attorney today, call Ruane Attorneys at 203-925-9200. Our civil rights lawyers can help with your situation.