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Police Misconduct and Brutality

Police misconduct and brutality are unfortunately crimes as old as policing itself. While the majority of police officers are likely good, hard-working men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe, there have always been cops who don’t abide by the laws they are supposed to uphold and enforce.

Unfortunately, the topic of police misconduct and brutality has been headlining news in recent years with the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, and so many others at the hands of police. But for every high-profile case such as those, there are thousands that go unreported and largely unnoticed.

The Cost of Police Misconduct and Brutality

The Washington Post recently published an investigation into 25 of the nation’s largest police departments (including Washington, DC, Baltimore, Prince George’s County, and Fairfax County) and cases against their officers related to misconduct and/or brutality. In total, more than $1.5 billion has been spent to settle claims of police misconduct on behalf of thousands of officers repeatedly accused of wrongdoing.

Cities often choose to settle with the defendant rather than fight the claim in court because it costs less money to pay out a settlement (and generates fewer headlines); however, in many of these settlements, the police departments acknowledge no wrongdoing and the officers go undisciplined.

For reference, here are some statistics from those local police departments. This includes the amount of money paid in settlements by the city between 2010 and 2020 for police misconduct/brutality claims.

  • Baltimore: $51 million, 58% by officers named in multiple payments (one officer alone was accountable for 14 payments totaling nearly $10 million)
  • Fairfax County, Virginia: $6 million, 15% by officers named in multiple payments
  • Prince George’s County, Maryland: $54 million, 13% by officers named in multiple payments
  • Washington, DC: $91 million, 8% by officers named in multiple payments

Sadly, these settlements paid out by cities come largely from the pockets of taxpayers. But more importantly, this illustrates just how many cases of police misconduct and brutality exist in police departments all over the country.

What Qualifies as Police Misconduct and Brutality?

Though most of the higher-profile cases of police brutality demonstrate excessive force, there are a few other actions that are considered to be police misconduct and brutality. These include:

  • False arrest or imprisonment: This occurs when a police officer brings someone into custody without probable cause (when a law enforcement officer sees a crime being committed or has a reasonable belief that the person has committed or was going to commit a crime) or an arrest warrant.
  • Illegal/unreasonable search and seizure: One example of this misconduct includes police conducting a body cavity or strip search on a suspect who has not been placed under arrest or was arrested for committing a misdemeanor. Another is police entering and searching a suspect’s home without a warrant and without the claim of emergency circumstances.
  • Malicious prosecution: If an officer begins a criminal proceeding without reasonable proof that a crime has been committed, a victim may claim malicious prosecution. This claim often occurs if the law enforcement officer has caused emotional stress, embarrassment, and/or financial expenses to the victim without legitimate cause.
  • Excessive force: These claims can be tricky because all claims of excessive force must show that there clearly was injury sustained as a result of force beyond what that particular situation warranted. Additionally, there are many variables around the definition of excessive force–this can depend on the reason why the officer attempted to stop or arrest the individual, how the person responded, and the circumstances of the stop or arrest. If an officer believes (or simply says) that the suspect in question posed immediate danger (whether that’s true or not), the officer may react in that way. It’s up to a police brutality attorney to show that the officer was not warranted in reacting in a way that led to excessive force. More clear, however, is the fact that a police officer may not strike or injure a person who is not in possession of a weapon, a person who is not acting in a manner that is life-threatening, and a person who follows the officer’s instructions. Application of force must also cease once a suspect has been restrained.
  • Failure to abide by the rights of a pre-trial detainee: An officer may follow the law to a tee up until and including the arrest. However, if any injury occurs while the suspect is in jail, a claim may be justified. Law enforcement has total control over a detainee and must consider if his/her food, shelter, medical, and psychological needs are being addressed. It’s also an officer’s duty to protect the detainee from other inmates in the jail. Any injury that occurs during detention before the trial could result in a claim filed against the agency that operates the detention facility.

Do You Need a Police Misconduct and Brutality Attorney?

Call The Lapidus Law Firm at (202) 785-5111 or (301) 852-7500 if you feel you are a victim of police misconduct or brutality. We’ll set up a free, no-obligation consultation during which you’ll give us your account of the situation. From there, we’ll review your information and, if we determine you have a solid case of police misconduct or brutality, we will fight our hardest to get you a fair, reasonable settlement and justice by holding the offending officers accountable for their actions.

We are committed to making justice work for you.

Written by Larry Lapidus

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