There is no question that law enforcement officers have difficult jobs. They are tasked with keeping the peace and must sometimes make split-second decisions in life-or-death situations where they are faced with an uncooperative suspect or a person wielding a firearm or other weapon. Most officers are honest and fair in their dealings with suspects. But what happens when an officer goes too far? When can the use of force be considered excessive or as a result of discrimination? Understanding police brutality and other forms of misconduct can help you get a clear picture of your rights and options when dealing with an aggressive law enforcement officer.
In California, law enforcement may use reasonable force as needed to control a situation. They should not use excessive force or use weapons (tasers, stun guns, firearms, batons, etc.) that are inappropriate for the unique situation. Unfortunately, whether for reasons of discrimination, inexperience or outright malice, some law enforcement officers use excessive force to try to control a situation. This may include such scenarios as:
- Striking a suspect who is already disarmed or disabled.
- Using deadly force against a suspect who is not threatening the life of the officer or another person.
- Using extreme force against a suspect who is clearly cooperating or is already subdued.
- Unnecessary use of a weapon on a suspect who is not dangerous.
- Multiple officers repeatedly striking a suspect.
- Unreasonable or excessive use of restraints.
There are other forms of police misconduct as well, including sexual assault, intimidation, illegal strip searches, planting or fabricating evidence, false arrest, coercing confessions and perjury. Any of these acts can have disastrous effects. Police misconduct can claim lives, can cause suspects to suffer undue injury or emotional trauma, or can result in wrongful convictions.
A recent case involving a deputy who was involved in his seventh on-duty shooting brought into question the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department policy on officer shootings and returns to work. In September 2013, the deputy was involved in a fatal shooting of a suspect. This marked the seventh shooting of his career, a high figure for most law enforcement officers. The deputy's behavior was subsequently brought into question, along with concerns as to why he was working in the field in the first place, after he was placed on desk duty following his sixth on-the-job shooting.
What can I do if I've been the victim of police brutality?
If you have been the victim of any type of police misconduct, you may be able to take your case to court. Depending on what occurred, you may be able to sue for damages. This may include money for your medical care, emotional trauma, lost earnings and other injuries or losses you experienced. Or, the officer may face criminal charges for what he or she did to you. An officer could face imprisonment and other penalties for perjury, assault, bribery or other crimes committed while on duty.
Uncovering police misconduct can also dramatically impact the outcome of any criminal charges pending against you. If an officer planted drugs on you, for example, this information could be used to have drug charges dropped. If you were coerced or threatened into confessing to a crime you did not commit, this could be used to dismiss the confession from your case. If you were subject to an illegal search, any evidence recovered in the search may be considered inadmissible.
If you have questions about excessive force, police brutality and other forms of misconduct by law enforcement personnel, please do not hesitate to call a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Lessem & Newstat. We represent arrestees, suspects and defendants across the greater LA area in the face of all types of misdemeanor and felony charges and can offer insight regarding your rights and options.