What Is Police Misconduct?

Police misconduct includes such actions as use of excessive force (police brutality), denial of basic constitutional rights, racial profiling, tasering, and illegal search and seizure.

Lately, it is the use of excessive force which has been the focus of much of the media’s attention. And for good reason. One recent national study estimated there were “a total of 337,590 use of physical force incidents among State and local law enforcement agencies.” (1)

And, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics regarding nonfatal force, “an annual average of 44 million U.S. residents age 16 or older had one or more face-to-face contacts with police. Among them, an estimated 1.6% experienced the threat or use of nonfatal force by police, including shouting, cursing, threatening force, pushing or grabbing, hitting or kicking, using pepper spray, using an electroshock weapon, pointing a gun, or using other force during the most recent contact.” (2)

Likewise, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) Use of Force Report notes, “There were 7,879 total reportable police force incidents in 2018 –94% were classified as Level 1, 4% as Level 2, and 2% as Level 3 uses of force.” (3)

During the first quarter of 2020 alone, the NYPD reported 1,946 incidents of use of force citywide. As a result of the use of force there were 651 subject injuries reported: 29 serious physical injuries, 39 substantial physical injuries, and 583 physical injuries. (4)

From these numbers, it is clear that you are not alone if you or a loved one was injured by the police. You may need to sue to get the justice you deserve. This includes suing for wrongful death.

Incidents of Police Misconduct

The widely reported fatal arrest of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers is shocking. Floyd was killed when an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, even when Floyd pleaded with the officer that he could not breathe. (5)

Another incident is the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old emergency medical technician. Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville police who entered her home to execute a search warrant without knocking or announcing themselves. (6)

These incidents are disturbing for several reasons. First, the use of excessive force, and secondly, the failure of police to treat suspects humanely.

These are just two of many police misconduct incidents which have come to light. Here are some other examples of police misconduct:

Tasered to Death

Reuters reported that a California man, in the midst of a psychological meltdown, was tasered by police. They were called to his home by his wife. At the time, Schrock was not being physically aggressive with the police officers. He kept shouting for them to leave his home. Yet, the taser was used twice, once directly to his chest. He collapsed, gasping, and became unresponsive. He later died from a lack of oxygen to his brain due to cardiac arrest brought on by the tasering. (7)

Excessive Use of Force

A Florida TV news station reported that an Orlando police officer physically assaulted a man in custody. The man was in a holding cell when the officer stormed in and kneed him in the stomach, causing the man’s spleen to rupture. The man underwent immediate emergency surgery. (8)

Racial Profiling

A black man in South Carolina had several run-ins with police over a three day period. In his first encounter, the man was stopped for a broken taillight. Police reported the odor of marijuana coming from his vehicle and searched it, then ticketed him for the broken taillight.

The second encounter was at the man’s hotel. Again, police reported the smell of marijuana coming from his room. A search of the room found no illegal drugs, contraband, or weapons. The man was put in handcuffs and a choke hold, and had his head slammed against the wall outside of his hotel room by police.

A third encounter occurred a few hours after the hotel incident. The man was in a vehicle which was pulled over. The officers found a shotgun in the vehicle. The weapon was seized but no arrests were made. (9)

Constitutional Rights Denial

Police misconduct includes the denial of basic constitutional rights.

In the spring of 2020, people across the nation protested stay-at-home orders, issued to help stem the spread of COVID-19.The protesters believe the social distancing orders are unconstitutional, violating citizen rights to peacefully assemble and practice religion.

“More than 80 percent of those who were issued summonses for social distancing violations in New York City were people of color… 193 of those issued summonses were black and 111 were Hispanic, according to the New York Police Department,” reports CNN. (10)

And the denial of basic rights to protest often turns violent due to police officers reacting by force. During the marches in response to the Floyd murder, police officers beat protestors with batons and used patrol cars to plow into crowds of people. “Police officers have again and again been captured on video attacking protesters. These videos — many of them graphic and disturbing — often show police seeming to treat protesters like an opposing army, rather than like citizens they’re sworn to protect.” (11)

Federal Prosecution Against Police

The U.S. Department of Justice investigates and prosecutes law enforcement officers on violations of constitutional rights. “The Department’s investigations most often involve alleged uses of excessive force, but also include sexual misconduct, theft, false arrest, and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs or a substantial risk of harm to a person in custody.” The Department’s investigations also cover failure to intervene. (12)

However, there are two standards which must be met before the government can seek an indictment. First, the government has to be certain a federal crime has been committed by the officer. And second, the government has to believe that the charges can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and it can win the case. (13)

In roughly 99% of the cases, no charges are filed “when a police officer kills someone on the job.” (14)

If the federal government does not choose to investigate, you need to hire your own attorney to pursue your legal case against police misconduct. For federal claims, you have three years to file a Notice of Claim.

If you or anyone you know has suffered an injury as a result of police misconduct, contact us for a free case evaluation.

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What to Do If You Have Been a Victim of Police Misconduct

During any face-to-face encounter with police you should:

  • Stay calm.
  • Comply with police requests as best as possible.
  • Request restraint and say nothing more.
  • If the situation permits, record the incident or take photos with a cell phone.
  • Do not be aggressive in any way; aggression may be used against you when pursuing legal action.

As soon as the encounter ends, follow these steps: (15)

  • If you have been injured, seek medical attention.
  • Document the incident by writing down everything that happened.
  • When quoting yourself or the police, use exact words.
  • Note the specifics such as location, time, and day.
  • Identify the officer(s) by badge number, name, and/or physical description.
  • Get the names and contact information of witnesses.
  • Consult with an attorney. Your attorney can help you identify what rights you have.
  • File a Police Misconduct Complaint.

If you are suing the NYPD, you must file a Notice of Claims with the New York City Comptroller’s Office within 90 days of the occurrence.

Filing New York Police Misconduct Complaints

In New York, register your complaints of police misconduct simply by filling out a form. You can submit the form in person, by phone, by mail or e-mail, or online.

Be aware that the complaint form asks for your identity and contact information. There is no established process for making anonymous complaints.

However, the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Department does offer an unrecorded, anonymous tip line. (16)

Filing a Lawsuit in New York

In New York, you have 1 year and 90 days from the date of the incident to file your lawsuit.

There are several steps in the legal process which must be completed prior to your lawsuit going to trial:

A summons and complaint document must be served. This notifies the officers of the specific complaints against them and requires their presence at a hearing or in court.

The Discovery phase consists of evidence gathering through conducting interviews, the review of relevant facts, and any recorded media of the incident.

Motions (a procedural device) are made. Motions allow a limited or specific contested issue to be brought before the court for a decision.

Settlement negotiations ensue. This is where a specific dollar amount is agreed to as compensation. If no figure is reached, then the case goes to trial.

Trial is the legal proceeding in which arguments and evidence from the plaintiff (person suing) and the defense (person being sued) are presented in court before a judge.

Why File?

There are many reasons you should file a lawsuit against police who have injured you or killed someone you loved. Doing so: (17)

  • Creates a permanent record.
  • Effects change both in police department practices and officer behavior.
  • Ensures an investigation is conducted.
  • Delivers a fair and impartial hearing.
  • Speaks directly to the officer involved.
  • Gets you the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Weitz & Luxenberg Legal Victories

Weitz & Luxenberg continues to win verdicts and negotiate settlements for our clients.

Here are just a few cases where our personal injury team made a difference:

  • Our firm secured a $13.34 million judgment on behalf of a victim attacked at a New York City bar.
  • W&L was instrumental in getting a $16.4 million award for our client in a wrongful death case.

Weitz & Luxenberg has successfully represented clients for over 30 years. We stand up to people and organizations who wield power, on behalf of anyone who may be vulnerable.

In a free initial consultation, we can evaluate your case and help you understand your legal options. We would be honored to represent you in your time of need against any police misconduct that injured you.