Terms such as police brutality and excessive force have been used in the media a lot lately. And while excessive force is something that does occur, just because the police do something that you don’t like, does not mean that they have committed a crime. On this page, I will discuss excessive force in greater detail so that you can identify it.
Excessive force occurs where a police officer uses too much force. Police officers have the authority to use a reasonable degree of force, when necessary, to resolve a conflict situation. However, the police do not have an unlimited ability to use force, and if the police officer uses too much force, and hurts someone as a result, then the injured person has the right to sue the police officer for money damages.
Imagine this: You are arrested for breach of the peace because you got into a really loud public argument over a football game at a bar. After you were handcuffed, you made things worse and mouthed off to the police officer. In response, the police officer unexpectedly punched you in the face three times. Your jaw was broken, and you are badly injured. Do you have a claim for excessive force?
YES. You have a Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. Remember that the police officer is only allowed to use reasonable force. In this example, the police officer lashed out at you in anger and frustration, which is not allowed. You were already handcuffed and in custody. The police officer did not have grounds to strike you in the face simply because you were verbally abusive. The police officer wrongly escalated the force used to an inappropriate level. You have the right to file a lawsuit for money damages against the police officer.
There is no need to use a cannon to kill a mosquito.
When a conflict occurs, a police officer should employ gradual methods to resolve the situation. In most situations, the police officer won’t need to use force at all. Their mere presence, or their verbal commands, might be enough to resolve the problem.
If needed, the police officer can use body force. For example, the police officer might block, hold, grab, or restrain a suspect. This is known as “empty hand control.” Oftentimes, this is all the force needed. The officer can intentionally strike a suspect, in certain circumstances, when necessary to gain control over a combative individual.
If the situation persists, or the threat increases, the police officer can use weapons, such as a taser, club, pepper spray, or even a police dog, to resolve the situation. In the most extreme cases, a police officer may be justified to use lethal force (such as a firearm). Any of these situations could result in police brutality if the use of the particular weapon was not reasonable under the circumstances.
Consider this scenario: The police break up a drug sale on the streets. One of the suspects suddenly reaches into his pocket. Without warning, one of the police officer shoots, and kills, the suspect. It turns out that all the suspect had in his pocket was an asthma inhaler. There was no weapon. Did the officer use excessive force?
PROBABLY NOT. This is an extremely close call. If the police officer reasonably believed that the suspect was going pull out a weapon, then the police officer’s actions, although lethal, are probably not excessive. The police do not have to wait to let the suspect take the first shot. However, the police officer’s action must have been based upon a reasonable belief that the suspect was about to use a weapon given the facts known at the time. It is not a clear-cut case either way.
Police brutality cases are not simple. They involve highly complex legal claims and legal defenses. If you believe that a police officer has used excessive force against you, you may have a lawsuit against that police officer for money damages. You should contact a civil rights attorney immediately.