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What to do if you're a victim of police misconduct

What to do if you're a victim of police misconduct

Many are familiar with the tactic known as “good cop, bad cop.” This article discusses the steps a person can take when they have a “bad cop” encounter and become the victim of police misconduct. Police misconduct has many forms, including false arrest, false imprisonment, coerced confessions and police brutality.

A victim of any police misconduct should know a few points of information to help protect their rights and aid them in their pursuit of a civil action.


Do

Do understand what constitutes police misconduct

Police misconduct is a broad term used to describe any police actions which violate the rights of the citizens they encounter. Police officers have inherent authority, and officers who abuse this authority can cause great damage to the victims of the abuse. Police misconduct can take the form of false arrests, improper searches, forced confessions, harassment, police brutality and false imprisonment.

Some misconduct is intentional while other misconduct is a result of negligent, sloppy, and lazy police work. No matter what type of misconduct suffered, a victim should consult with an attorney in order to discuss any necessary criminal defense or potential civil lawsuit.

Do know your options for reporting police misconduct

Police misconduct victims have a few avenues for voicing their grievances and indignation. Many police departments have civil complaint departments that record and investigate civilian complaints against the police department or individual officers.

Another option for victims is to report the incident to the Internal Affairs division of the police department. Both of these options will initiate an internal investigation into the misconduct. However, these options lack the potential for awarding the victim damages or compensation.

Only by starting a lawsuit will a victim be able to hold the offending officer accountable while simultaneously seeking monetary compensation for any injuries or damage. A victim can choose all or none of these options in reporting police misconduct

Do write down the details!

In any police misconduct lawsuit, the burden will be on the victim to prove the improper police actions. If there was an arrest, the processing papers will establish police involvement. However, a victim’s testimony should prove police involvement even if there was no arrest.

Any details or information which can identify the offending officer will significantly bolster the victim’s case. To that end, a victim should record the officer’s name, precinct, badge/shield number, patrol car number and any other information that could help identify the involved police officer. Memories fade so write down this information as soon as possible after the police misconduct.

Do take pictures and track down video footage

Pictures and videos are one of the best means of conveying to a jury the injuries suffered as a result of police misconduct and brutality. Victims should immediately take pictures of any physical injuries or damaged property and then continue to document the injuries in the days, weeks and months following the incident.

Additionally, in the age of smart phones, bystanders increasingly capture video footage of police misconduct. Many buildings have surveillance cameras whose footage can be retrieved with the help of an attorney and subpoena. Victims should try and track down all footage in order to strengthen the proofs in their case.

Do understand your goals

Each victim has a unique path to recovery from police misconduct. Some victims seek an apology while others want actions to be taken against the offending officer. Victims need to think about their goals before taking an action.

A lawsuits will demand monetary compensation but may not ensure any direct consequences to the offending officer. Apologies are even harder to obtain. Therefore, victims should consult with an attorney and make sure any civil or disciplinary actions taken are in line with the victim’s personal goals and recovery process.


Don't

Do not don’t plead guilty to a reduced charge

Many incidents of police misconduct end with the victim’s arrest despite the victim’s innocence. Police do this in hopes that the arrest and manufactured charge will somehow justify their improper actions. Prosecutors will then offer the victim to plead to a reduced charge or minimal sentence in order to end the criminal case.

While it may appear that the prosecutor is trying to help, it is crucial to understand that any admission of guilt or negotiated plea resolution will destroy the corresponding civil lawsuit. Any resolution of the criminal case short of a dismissal or not-guilty decision will be viewed as an admission of guilt, wrongdoing, and responsibility that justified police action. Victims of police misconduct must stand firm in defending false charges in order to clear their name and protect their civil lawsuit.

Do not don’t forget to seek medical and/or psychological attention

A victim of police misconduct must not forget to seek treatment for any injuries suffered as a result of the police misconduct. Injuries, whether physical or emotional, must be treated in order for the victim to properly begin the healing process.

The victim’s attorney will ensure the civil lawsuit proceeds as necessary; the victim should focus on their recuperation. So long as the victim keeps records of all treatment, the injuries can be proven even after the physical wounds and emotional scarring have begun to heal.

Do not do not worry about the impact of the civil case on your pending criminal case

Many victims worry that if they sue the police then the police and/or prosecutor will take a harsher tone with any pending criminal prosecution. This is a mistaken notion and in reality, a the civil case has no impact on a victim’s criminal case.

In many jurisdictions, especially the more populous ones, the municipality’s civil attorneys are in a different office and have little communication with the prosecutors and police officers. Further, any improper actions taken by the police or prosecutor in the criminal prosecution might even bolster the victim’s civil case by adding a claim for malicious prosecution.

Do not do not wait to file a notice of claim

A victim will want to sue either the state or municipality that employed the police officer. However, many states and municipalities require a person to first file a notice of claim before they can file a lawsuit. The notice of claim includes a basic description of the victim’s grievance in order to allow the jurisdiction to investigate.

What most victims do not realize is that there is a limited period in which this claim can be filed, sometimes as short as 90 days. Victims must consult with an attorney soon after the incident of police misconduct in order to file the notice of claim. Once filed, the right to sue is preserved.


Summary
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Police misconduct includes a wide range of police activity that results in an abuse of the power vested in the police force. This abuse of power causes various harm and injury to the victim. Victims of police misconduct need to know where they can report such instances of abuse and what rights they have to file a lawsuit against the police.


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Photo Credits: Police arrest after shooting courtesy of Jason Edward Scott Bain/flickr creative commons; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Judah Fuld, EsqAttorney

Judah Fuld practices criminal defense and civil litigation in New York and New Jersey, before both State and Federal courts. He handles legal matters including felony and misdemeanor arrests, traffic court summonses, false arrest and police brut...

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