Regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, police officers can make people uneasy. But for some, this uneasiness turns to fear based on personal experiences or events in the news. Unfortunately, police brutality and excessive force are real threats in our society. But that doesn’t mean that you are helpless. On this page, I want to equip you with the information that you need to understand and combat police brutality & excessive force in Connecticut.
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.
What is Police Brutality?
The first step in preventing police brutality is understanding what it is.
Police brutality oftentimes falls under the category of excessive force or unreasonable force. Excessive force occurs in any situation where a government official who is allowed to use force against other people uses too much force. Remember that a police officer is allowed to use force as long as it is reasonably necessary. The issue occurs when there are not grounds for force or the force gets escalated to an inappropriate level.
If a conflict occurs, a police officer should use gradual methods to resolve the situation. Ideally, a police officer won’t need to use force at all. Their mere presence or verbal interactions with a suspect would be enough to resolve any issues. This is oftentimes what happens.
But, if conflict persists, the police officer might escalate to what is known as “empty hand control.” This means that the officer uses their bodily force to resolve a situation, (ex. grabbing or holding a suspect).
In most situations, this is all the force that is needed for the police officer to do their job. However, if a threat persists, the police officer might then use less lethal weapons such as a taser, a club, or a police dog to resolve the situation. Lethal weapons such as firearms are used as a last resort.
Sometimes excessive force is clearcut – for example, if a police officer shoots at a person who is cooperating and who has their hands in the air. Other times, it is harder to determine if the force that a police officer was necessary or excessive. An experienced Connecticut attorney could review a police misconduct case to determine if excessive force was used.
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 with an excessive force lawyer 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.
Why Does Excessive Force Occur?
We often hear about issues of police brutality in the news. Despite these issues, many people still believe that these are unfortunate but rare instances that do not represent the norm. However, there are many reasons why excessive force and police brutality might be systemic problems instead of the case of “a few bad eggs.”
One systemic issue is that most departments do not provide adequate training for their officers. A few weeks of training cannot prepare police officers for the issues that they might face when out in the field. Accidents happen when people do not properly know how to handle a situation.
In addition, consequences for excessive force are oftentimes not significant enough to deter that behavior. Most administrative consequences are minimal. The majority of federal police brutality cases never even make it to trial. Without serious consequences, officers are more likely to display inappropriate behavior.
Police officers themselves admit to excessive force. A study conducted by the Department of Justice found that 84% of police officers surveyed say they have seen colleagues use excessive force. Over 60% also admit that they do not always report police brutality.
Preventing Police Brutality
If we want to stop police brutality, there are a lot of steps that can be taken. First of all, filming officers while they are on the job helps them maintain professionalism. It will also help to better educate and better diversify our police force.
But what are some things that you can do to reduce your risk of being a victim of police brutality? If you have an encounter with the police, here are a few things to do:
- Remain calm and be respectful to the officer. Set the tone early that you will cooperate and that you aren’t a threat.
- Listen carefully to the officer and follow their instructions.
- Show the officer your hands at all times. If you need to reach for something, tell the officer what you are doing and ask for permission (ex. “My car registration is in the glove compartment, is it ok if I reach in there to get it?”)
Seek Justice with a Connecticut Police Brutality Lawyer
If you are the victim of police brutality, your Eighth Amendment right has been violated. You have the right to seek justice, which can happen in a few different ways.
You can file a complaint with the United States Department of Justice. Depending on the circumstances, they might investigate your case.
Another option is filing a civil rights complaint. You can do this under Section 1983 of the United States Code. When you do this, you can get compensation for your pain and suffering.
If you want to file a complaint, it is a good idea to contact a lawyer. A lawyer can help you through this process, review your situation, and help you build the strongest case. 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 an attorney experienced in handling cases involving police brutality and excessive force in Connecticut.