Police officers have a responsibility to protect their communities, but sometimes, they step out of bounds and brutally attack the very people they are hired to serve.
What is Police Brutality?
Police brutality occurs when a law enforcement officer uses excessive or unnecessary force on a victim. Legally, “excessive force” means any force that exceeds what is needed to handle the situation.
Police brutality is often racially motivated, meaning officers may be more likely to use excessive levels of force on certain races. However, it does not have to be racially motivated to be considered police brutality. People of any race, ethnicity, age, or gender may be a victim of police brutality.
Examples of Police Brutality
Police brutality can come in many forms, but it commonly involves the use of physical force. Police brutality can include the use of nerve gas, batons, guns, punches, kicks, and other acts of physical violence that are used to hurt victims. These illegal behaviors can lead to serious injuries such as broken bones, spinal cord injuries, and brain injuries. In extreme cases, police brutality can cause fatalities, too.
Verbal abuse, psychological intimidation, false arrests, and sexual assault are also forms of police brutality. Although these don’t leave physical scars, the emotional and mental anguish of these forms of police brutality are just as devastating to the victim.
Use of Force Continuum
Law enforcement agencies have policies in place to guide how their officers use force during confrontations. These policies were designed to show officers how to escalate their use of force when the situation calls for it. If a police officers uses a level of force that cannot be justified based on the suspect’s behavior and the situation, it is considered police brutality.
For example, officers must first respond with just their presence, meaning their presence may be enough to stop a crime or diffuse a situation. If their presence is not enough to control the situation, they may increase their level of force to verbalization only. This includes issuing non-threatening verbal commands such as the standard demand for a driver’s license and registration during a traffic stop. If this is still not enough to control the situation, they may escalate their behavior once more to include bodily force such as grabs, holds, punches or kicks.
Officers are allowed to use their batons, chemical weapons or tasers to control the situation when bodily force is not enough to do so. They cannot escalate the situation to use lethal force, such as a firearm, unless the suspect poses a serious threat to the officer, other officers on the scene, or innocent bystanders.
Despite these guidelines, police officers often jump directly to the more forceful levels on this continuum, resulting in police brutality.
Proving Police Brutality
To prove police brutality occurred, you must be able to show excessive force was used. Police officers will often argue they used justifiable force given the circumstances. They may claim they felt threatened by the victim’s behavior so they had to escalate the situation, even when this is not true. Police officers who are accused of police brutality often say the victim was resisting arrest.
Medical records, body camera recordings and eyewitness testimony can help prove police brutality occurred. But, often the only witnesses to police brutality incidents are other police officers, which further complicates matters. There’s an unspoken code of silence within some police departments that encourages officers to protect each other in civil matters like these.
Basically, a judge will look at whether the victim was resisting arrest at the time of the incident, whether the victim had a weapon, and what force was used by the police office to handle the situation.
If You Are A Victim of Police Brutality…
Going against the very people who are supposed to protect you can be intimidating for victims, but it’s important to remember you have rights that need to be defended. After you have one of these encounters with a police officer, take pictures of your injuries and seek medical treatment right away. Be sure to keep all documentation related to your treatment so you can provide it to your attorney.
If you are a victim of police brutality, do not hesitate to contact Shegerian & Associates for legal assistance. Our attorneys are standing by to help you fight for the justice you deserve.