Police Brutality

Police officers have a duty to defend and protect the citizens of their jurisdiction. Officers should aim to prevent crimes from posing a physical or financial danger to those citizens. Unfortunately, in some cases, police officers may not exercise poor judgment when interacting with the public. If you were a victim of police brutality in Philadelphia, you may need a police brutality lawyer to help.

Police Brutality: Defined

Police brutality involves a law enforcement officer’s use of excessive force while performing their regular duties. In the course of their normal job duties, police officers must often exercise force. Officers may need to restrain criminals or conduct searches to fulfill their duty to protect and serve. In some cases, however, police officers may get carried away. When a police officer uses more force than necessary, causing harm to the citizens they are intended to protect, they may be held accountable. Instances of police brutality may involve a range of circumstances, including:

Racial Profiling

Racial profiling occurs when police officers base their opinions of potential criminals on skin color or race. In cases of racial profiling, police officers often harass people of color who have no obvious connection to criminal activity. For example, a police officer may be more likely to pull over black drivers for minor traffic violations. At the same time, they may ignore more serious violations committed by white drivers. In more serious circumstances, officers might assume an individual’s involvement in a nearby crime simply because of skin color. If an officer assumes involvement in a crime and takes action, they may be liable for police brutality.

Unnecessary Physical Violence

In some cases, a police officer’s use of physical force is necessary to prevent a criminal from causing further harm. When exerting physical force, however, police officers must consciously avoid using excessive violence. Officers may use higher degrees of force when stopping a violent crime. The nature of violent crimes may require force than usual to avoid harm to officers or others in the area. However, officers must mitigate the use of that force, using only the force necessary to stop the problem. Police officers must not engage in bullying or use excessive force against citizens. That includes force against citizens attempting or completing criminal acts. The use of unnecessary physical force may include:

  • Shooting someone without a reason for lethal force. Shooting, even when it does not result in death, should only be utilized in a limited set of circumstances. Generally, an officer should only fire his weapon in life-threatening situations. If the officer uses lethal force when it is not warranted, that officer can face significant civil penalties.
  • Using excessive force against the other party. In a fight with a police officer, the officer must be aware of the force used against the other person. The amount of force used should be only that necessary to subdue the individual they are pursuing. Obviously, police officers will likely need to use less force against elderly or frail individuals. Failure to properly gauge the use of force can result in serious injuries. Additionally, the officer may face accountability for those injuries.
  • Using a taser unnecessarily. A taser delivers an extreme volt of electricity, causing substantial pain to the victim. Police officers should use a taser only as directed, and only with the department-approved amount of force. Depending on the circumstances, excessive use or threat of use of a taser may be considered unnecessary force.
  • Use of beanbag guns and other crowd-quelling measures. In some cases, police officers may turn to non-lethal measures to calm or disperse a crowd. However, even though non-lethal, these methods may still exert an excessive amount of force. Beanbag guns, while they cause less lethal damage than shotguns, can still cause substantial injury to the victims. If an officer chooses to use these measures when they are not necessary, he could face accusations of police brutality.
  • Improper restraints. Officers must exercise care when restraining suspected criminals. Restraint that impairs breathing or causes substantial pain to the victim can cause significant damage. Improper restraint can also cut off blood supply to the limbs, leading to nerve damage or injury. Officers must also exercise care when dealing with restrained suspects. Officers must acknowledge that restraints hinder a suspect’s ability to defend themselves and accommodate them accordingly.

Sexual Assault

Police officers may not, under any circumstances, sexually assault citizens in the course of their duty. An unnecessary strip search may be considered sexual assault. Sexual assault also includes any forced genital contact or forced nakedness. Police officers must not use their position of power to coerce another individual into having sex. If a strip search is necessary under the circumstances, officers must exercise discretion and circumspection to avoid unnecessarily degrading behavior.

Coercion or Blackmail

Police officer’s position of power allows them to make decisions that could permanently impact the course of someone else’s life. They investigate crimes, protect their communities, and deal with criminal behavior. Officers must not accept bribes or blackmail members of the community into performing favors for them. For example, officers must not offer citizens money to avoid a criminal investigation. Police officers should also refrain from accepting payment for providing services that are already part of their job duties.

Lately, police brutality in various forms has received significantly more attention in the news. The general population is becoming increasingly aware of how police brutality has the potential to impact daily life across America. As a result, more people are standing up against police brutality. Despite efforts to bring awareness to police brutality, it continues to frequently occur in cities across the nation.

What Should You Do After Police Brutality?

Police are charged with the duty to defend and protect. When they perpetrate crimes, you may find it difficult to decide what to do next. Who should you turn to? Consider these key steps.

Document Everything

If possible, record the event. Either video or audio recordings can provide some record of what occurred during the incident. If you cannot record the event yourself, keep track of any important information. Write down when the event occurred, what injuries you sustained, and any treatment you received for those injuries. You may also want to speak with witnesses of the event. Try to write down your own statement about what happened during the event before you speak with witnesses. Witness testimony can unknowingly alter your memory of those events.

Comply With Police Officers

When you believe you have been racially profiled or targeted for excessive force, you might want to ignore officers’ directives. Legally, however, you should comply with police officers as much as possible. Perform the actions asked of you without argument. If you argue or refuse to comply, it could lead to further violence or make the situation worse.

Seek Medical Attention, if Needed

If you suffer injuries in a police brutality event, seek medical attention as soon as possible. A doctor can help collect evidence in cases of sexual assault and physical violence. The doctor will establish the full extent of your injuries and provide vitally necessary treatment. Additionally, the doctor can help collect evidence to prove the use of unnecessary force or the presence of sexual assault. A doctor can also help you document the full extent of your injuries to use as evidence. Follow the instructions of your doctor following your evaluation to help your injuries heal fully.

When you seek medical attention after a police brutality incident, keep track of all of your medical records. Any scans, x-rays, test results, or medical bills can be used to support your claim of police brutality. Records can help prove the extent of your injuries. Medical bills provide a way to establish how much compensation you deserve from your civil suit.

Contact a Police Brutality Attorney as Soon as Possible

When you suffer police brutality, you may have grounds for a claim against the police department. Typically, police brutality results in a civil claim from the injured party. However, depending on the circumstances, a criminal investigation may also be triggered. If you have suffered from police brutality, you need an attorney by your side. An attorney can help you navigate the claims process and fight for your rights on your behalf. Working with an attorney will ensure you smoothly progress through the legal process.

An attorney can help establish your injuries and what happened during the event. Professional attorneys will work with forensic specialists, law enforcement experts, and medical professionals. They will gather evidence to determine what happened during the event and how it impacted you. Additionally, they will document the full extent of your injuries. By working with a team of experts, an attorney may be able to piece together what happened during the accident. They can determine how much force the police officer should have used and how the force actually used was excessive.

An attorney can help stand as your defender. When police officers engage in excess violence or brutality, it can destroy citizen trust in the system. An attorney stands as your advocate, providing you with a source of support throughout the process. An attorney can help ensure that your interests are protected throughout the process. They may handle both the civil case and any criminal investigation that results from the incident of police brutality.

An attorney can help you seek compensation for the violence you suffered. When you suffer from police brutality, you deserve compensation for your injuries. The damages may include medical expenses, as well as the violation of trust committed by the police department. An attorney can work with you to help better establish how much compensation you deserve for your injuries.

An attorney can help you decide how to proceed with your claim. Many factors influence how you should proceed with your civil claim following police brutality. An attorney can help you decide:

  • How to represent your claim to the public. Some people, especially public figures, choose to publicly speak out against police brutality. Victims will use the media to raise public awareness and hold the police accountable for their actions. In other cases, you may prefer to keep your claim quieter. While you cannot fully control the level of publicity, you may carefully represent yourself to the media and in public.
  • Whether to try your claim in state or federal court.
  • Who should you sue in your claim. The officer as well as the government entity that employees him or her may be liable for your injuries. For example, a city known for poorly regulating officers might provide a basis for suing the city and the officer.
  • How should you handle your claim if police brutality causes the death of a family member. Does the estate sue, or should individual family members sue?

Working with an attorney can give you a better of how to proceed if an internal investigation clears the officer of wrongdoing. The internal affairs investigation may indicate that the officer does not have to pay a criminal penalty for brutality against you. However, that does not bar you from pursuing a civil suit against the officer. Your civil case does not depend on the results of the internal investigation. Even if the internal investigation cleared the officer, you may still have grounds for a civil claim. In some cases, internal investigations might ignore pressing evidence or fail to consider all the details of your incident. By working with an attorney, you will ensure that you have a full picture of what happened during the event. This may include vital evidence that was not presented during the internal affairs investigation.

Working with an attorney can get you access to more information. When you work with an attorney, you will stay informed about the progress of your case. Attorneys often have more access to information about the police officer, the brutality, and the investigation. In some cases, individuals might not have the ability to access the same level of information without an attorney.

Call the Zeiger Firm’s Police Brutality Attorneys Today

If you suffered brutality at the hands of the police, you may need an attorney to help you file a civil claim and seek the compensation you deserve. Contact The Zeiger Firm or call us at (215) 546-0340 today to set up your consultation.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esq.

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