Civil rights are part of our constitution and allow people to live freely within our democracy. Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act provides a means to sue state government employees and others that act "under color of state law" for civil rights violations. Section 1983 was enacted in 1871 to ensure legal recourse against oppressive groups like the Klu Klux Klan and corrupt government officials. They were violating the rights and liberties of formerly enslaved people. Civil rights claims that are commonly brought under this law include:
- Excessive use of force
- Unreasonable use of force
- False arrest
- Sexual assault by a police officer
- No use of verbal commands
- Causing unnecessary injury
- Injuring restrained suspects
Excessive or unreasonable use of force - Excessive use of force by police is an all too common civil rights violation. We often hear of this on the news because it frequently results in severe harm coming to the victim. No one will soon forget the shameful and outrageous death of George Floyd. Many other victims have been murdered because a police officer decides to shoot first and ask questions later. When a civil claim for excessive use of force is brought before the courts, it will examine the circumstances of the event to decide if the use of force was reasonable or not. Furthermore, it will examine the motivations and intentions behind the police officer's actions.
False arrest - The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure. While a police officer can arrest a person without a warrant, they still have to demonstrate probable cause to make the arrest. Sometimes, after an arrest, the police officer will discover the suspect is innocent. Still, suppose they made the arrest believing the suspect was guilty based on their information at the time. In that case, they'll not likely be liable for false arrest. It's up to you and your lawyer to prove the police officer acted without authority or beyond the scope of their powers.
Sexual assault by a police officer - Persons in police custody has a right to bodily integrity. Nonconsensual sexual contact deprives a person of their liberty. Sexual misconduct by a police officer includes rape, sexual contact by force or threat of force, and unwanted sexual touching or groping. To prove sexual assault by a police officer, you and your lawyer have to prove you did not consent to the contact and were forced or coerced into submission. Coercion can include threats of false charges or threats that you would suffer unjust punishment.
No use of verbal commands - If an officer forgets or chooses not to communicate with a suspect but instead goes straight to use of physical force, this could be considered police brutality. For example, say a suspect is coming out to surrender, but they have a gun in their hands. If the arresting officer chooses to shoot instead of telling the suspect to lay down the gun, that could be considered police brutality.
Causing unnecessary injury - Hurting a suspect unnecessarily violates civil rights. For example, suppose a suspect kicks a police officer. In that case, the police officer should restrain the suspect, not shoot them or beat them with a weapon.
Injuring restrained suspects - Once a suspect is restrained, there is no reason for a police officer to hurt the individual because they no longer pose a threat. We've all seen crazy videos of cops kicking and punching people who've already been restrained on the ground and handcuffed. The abuse of restrained suspects could be a violation of civil rights.