Police officers are confronted with potentially deadly situations every day on the job. Police officers are generally allowed to use whatever degree of force is necessary to make an arrest, protect the public, or defend themselves. However, there are occasions when the officer shoots a victim that is not a direct threat to the officer or anyone else. This type of force can be considered "excessive force" and could give rise to a police shooting lawsuit.
How Much Force is Considered "Excessive Force" by a Police Officer?
The amount of force that is considered "reasonable" is determined on a case by case basis. The facts of every case and every police shooting are completely different and some shootings may be considered justified based upon the circumstances and other shootings may be considered to involve "excessive force."
In most states, an arresting officer is allowed to use more force to arrest a resisting suspect than if the suspect were cooperative. An office can generally use deadly force if threatened with death or great bodily harm. Many cases hinge on the police officers actual intentions at the time of the shooting, such as whether the officer shot the victim with an intent to protect the public or whether the officer committed the shooting with the sole intent to just injure or kill the victim. The intent of the officer can often be determined by the events giving rise to the shooting and witness statements given during the post-shooting investigation.
Nowadays, many police shootings are captured on video. Police cars now have video cameras that tape these incidents and private citizens often use their cell phone cameras to capture video of a police beating or shooting. These videos provide powerful evidence to determine whether the shooting was justified or constitutes the use of excessive force.
In most states, a jury determines whether an officer used more force than was necessary to make an arrest after the evidence has been presented at a civil trial. The jury is instructed on the law and must consider what a reasonable person with the officer’s knowledge would have deemed necessary under the circumstances. The jury can determine if the shooting was justified or was due to a use of excessive force. If the shooting was not legally justified, the jury can award money damages to the victim and family.
What is Needed to File a Police Shooting Lawsuit?
Whenever there is a police shooting, there is typically and extensive investigation by the police department to gather all evidence surrounding the incident. Many times, an independent investigation is done by an outside police agency or even the United States Department of Justice to determine if the shooting was justified. These outside investigations are performed to prevent bias in the findings by the department that employed the shooting police officer.
To file a lawsuit, there must be evidence to show that the force used was excessive and that the shooting was not justified. In many cases, the victim may be completely unarmed at the time of the shooting. In other cases, the victim was simply not a danger to the officer or the general public.
What are the Laws for Filing a Police Shooting Case?
Police shooting cases allege that the police officer violated the victim's constitutional rights and state rights by using unreasonable force to cause an arrest. Most lawsuits allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which is an unlawful seizure of the body. Unlawful seizures can include a shooting or even a tasering of a victim.
Victims can also sue the police officer and police department under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, which is a civil action for the deprivation of constitutional rights. This section provides:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.
Under Section 1983, a shooting victim can sue the police officer, the policing agency, and often the city and county government responsible for employing the officer and operating the police department. Other lawsuit allegations can include gross negligence, assault and battery, and other state laws against the use of deadly force in a non life threatening situation.
Are there Laws that Protect Police Officers and Other Entities in Shooting Cases?
Yes. There are many laws that provide "immunity" to police officers and governmental agencies in excessive force lawsuits. States are immune from lawsuits by private citizens in federal court under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, many states have laws that prevent lawsuits against municipalities. A legal analysis of the facts surrounding the shooting and the state's individual laws is necessary to determine whether a lawsuit can be filed for civil damages.
What is the Compensation for a Police Shooting Lawsuit?
When the law permits a lawsuit to go forward, there may be money compensation available to the shooting victim. Damages can include:
- Pain & Suffering (at the time of the shooting and going into the future)
- Fright & Shock
- Psychological Injuries (like PTSD & depression)
- Scars & Permanent Disfigurements
- Disability from Work & Activities
- Loss of Income & Wages (past, present, & future)
- Bystander Claims (witnessing a family member injured in an accident)
- Death (filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit)
Certain states and some federal laws also allow punitive damages and the award of attorney fees if the jury determines that the police officer or police department violated the civil rights of the victim.
Who are the Best Rated Police Shooting Lawsuit Lawyers?
Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. and our lawyers have won the top awards in the legal profession, including:
- U.S. News & World Report Best Law Firms
- "Best Michigan Personal Injury Attorney" by American Lawyer Academy
- Named Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Michigan
- Honored as "Super Lawyers"
- Top Martindale-Hubbell Rating (AV) for Skill & Integrity
- Member of Million Dollar Advocates Forum
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