Alabama Police Brutality & Excessive Force Lawyer
According to the Justice Department’s own statistics, force was either threatened or actually used in 715,000 police contacts between 2002 and 2011, and excessive force was used in 535,000 encounters. Police brutality is real and prevalent, and when it does occur, the guilty officers and their colleagues go to great lengths to cover up their abuse. For more than twenty years, Alabama police brutality & excessive force lawyer Alan Lasseter has been successful time and again holding police officers and police departments accountable to their victims for police brutality and excessive force.
Facts about the Use of Force by Police in America
Statistics on use of force from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of the face-to-face contacts documented with police were police-initiated traffic and street stops. Racially speaking, blacks were more likely than Hispanics to experience force during these stops, and both groups were more likely to have force used against them than whites.
Statistics on deaths occurring to persons in custody or while in the process of being arrested show 4,813 arrest-related deaths between 2003 and 2009. About three in every five of these deaths were classified as homicides at the hands of law enforcement personnel. These homicides include shooting deaths, death from asphyxia while being restrained, death from injuries suffered in an altercation, and death attributed to the use of chemical sprays, tasers and other devices.
In 75% of arrest-related deaths, the victim was being arrested for an underlying violent offense. This fact alone does not necessarily justify the use of force in an arrest, much less the use of excessive or deadly force. This statistic may also be misleading since it is known that police officers who use excessive force may put an assault charge on the victim after the fact to try and cover up their brutal misconduct. Also, in 23% of these deaths, the supposed underlying offense was non-violent, and in two percent of cases no arrest was every initially contemplated at all.
Elements of a Police Brutality Claim
Police brutality is inexcusable, and a federal law (section 1983) authorizes lawsuits for money damages by persons whose civil rights have been violated by the police or other state actors. Nevertheless, it is astonishing how often police brutality goes unpunished because the police officers are held to be immune from liability for their actions. Overcoming a police officer’s immunity from a lawsuit is one of the most critical elements of a successful police brutality claim. Learn about this and other elements of police brutality claims that must be proven in a successful case, and contact an experienced Birmingham police misconduct lawyer at the Lasseter Law Firm if you have been the victim of police brutality or excessive force in Alabama.
In a police brutality case, you must be able to prove that the officer used more force than was required in the situation. Police officers are authorized to use reasonable force when necessary to make an arrest, but they cannot and should not use excessive force. In many instances, no force at all is needed. When an officer uses excessive force or consistently uses force when no force is called for, courts may find the officer’s conduct unreasonable.
Constitutional Rights Violated
Most police brutality cases that get dismissed do so because the officers were considered to be immune from liability for their actions. Police enjoy what is known as “qualified immunity” from liability for their conduct when they are performing their job. To overcome that immunity, it has to be shown that the officer’s conduct was willful and unreasonable and not just merely negligent. Also, one has to prove that the officer violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right.
Physical injury is generally required to prove that excessive force was used and to sustain a claim for money damages. This can be proven in many ways, such as medical records, photographic evidence of the injury, torn or bloodied clothing, etc. Attorney Alan Lasseter has over 25 years of experience in police misconduct and personal injury cases and knows how to build a strong case that convincingly demonstrates the damages caused in an Alabama police brutality case.
Proving a Case of Police Brutality in Alabama
The police know when they’ve used excessive force and might get in trouble for it, and they take steps to cover up their actions in various ways. Getting statements from witnesses, even police witnesses, when available is a difficult but important task. Also, video evidence is extremely powerful when available and has been called a “fundamental revolution” in holding police officers accountable. Witnesses to police brutality and the victims themselves are sometimes able to capture encounters on cell phone video, and police officers and patrol cars in Birmingham and cities throughout Alabama are often equipped with body cameras and dash cams. Even without video evidence, an experienced police brutality lawyer will know the steps to take to secure powerful evidence and present a strong case demonstrating a police officer’s willful and unreasonable violation of another’s clearly established constitutional rights.
Fighting Excessive Force and Police Brutality in Alabama
The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines force in many different ways. Birmingham police brutality lawyer Alan Lasseter looks at each individual case and asks the important questions in determining whether police misconduct occurred.
Use of force – “The amount of effort required by law enforcement to gain compliance from an unwilling subject.” Was force even required by the situation? In most instances, force is not needed to get an individual to comply with police instructions. Properly-trained and in-control officers know how to obtain compliance without the use of force.
Excessive use of force – “The application of lawful use of force in too many separate incidents.” If the use of force was not in fact necessary, is this incident part of a larger pattern of behavior by the officer in question?
Use of excessive force – “The application of force beyond what is reasonably believed to be necessary to gain compliance from a subject in any given incident.” Police officers may find themselves in tense confrontations with individuals, but this is part of their job that they are trained for, and there is never any excuse for the use of excessive force.
Non-deadly or less-lethal force – “The level of force required to gain compliance that is not known to or intended to create serious bodily harm or death.” Officers should only use the amount of physical force that is reasonable and necessary to effectuate an arrest. Again, in many if not most cases, no force at all should be necessary to make an arrest.
Deadly or lethal force – “Force that a law enforcement officer uses with the purpose of causing, or that the officer knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious bodily harm.” Federal law states that deadly force is only justified under conditions of extreme necessity and as a last resort when all lesser means have failed or cannot be reasonably employed.
Why Does Police Brutality Occur?
Everyone makes mistakes. Police are human too, so shouldn’t they be excused if they lose their temper once in a while and use more force than is needed when making an arrest? The fact is that there is no excuse for the use of excessive force. Even in the tensest situations, with adrenaline pumping through an officer’s body, it’s the police officer’s training and not basic animal instincts that should take over. Force is sometimes necessary for the police to do their job, but when that force is excessive or amounts to police brutality, then the officer has crossed the line from using necessary or reasonable force to breaking the law and violating an individual’s civil rights.
Alan Lasseter is a Birmingham civil rights attorney dedicated to fighting police brutality and other forms of police misconduct in Alabama. Read on to learn about the reasons police brutality occurs, and contact the Lasseter Law Firm at 205-438-6591 if you have been the victim of police brutality or excessive force in Alabama.
Lack of Training
Police officers do receive a great deal of training before they are ever put out on the street. Much of this training is military or paramilitary training, and officers are taught how to handle a great many weapons and how to subdue a person with weapons or without. What is sometimes lacking is training about how to deal with a person without using force and how to defuse a tense situation without undue force. Proper police training also includes how to manage one’s own emotions in the heat of the moment. Police need to be taught how to take control of a situation by acting assertively, not aggressively.
Some people will go out of their way to avoid a violent confrontation; other people will seek them out. Police officers are people too, and some tend to react more in one way than the other. Before police officers are sent out onto the street with a gun, baton, taser and pepper stray strapped to their belts, they should receive appropriate and adequate training about when to use force and when not to use force, and to use only the amount of force necessary to the situation. Officers who do not demonstrate that they have learned these valuable skills do not belong in a patrol car or on the street.
Lack of Standards
Police departments publish standards of conduct for their officers. However, these “standards” are often just very general principles such as upholding the law and treating people with dignity and respect. What departments should have are well-defined and detailed standards for appropriate behavior so that officers know clearly what is expected of them.
Lack of Consequences
Even if standards are clearly defined in departmental policies and regulations, all too often officers experience a lack of consequences for misconduct. Procedures for investigating and prosecuting misconduct may appear on paper, but then they are not enforced at the departmental level. The same brotherhood mentality that encourages fellow officers to assist in the cover up of their colleagues’ misconduct also keeps superior officers from instituting proceedings to punish officers for using excessive force.
Sadly, racism is not yet a thing of the past in America, and racial bias exists among people in any profession or occupation, including law enforcement. It is well-documented that African-Americans, Hispanics and persons of color are the recipients of force during a traffic stop or street stop at far greater rates than Caucasians. Police brutality against any person is a potential civil rights violation and a violation of section 1983. When race is a motivating factor in the use of force or excessive force, additional laws and penalties may apply as well.
You Have a Right to Compensation after an Instance of Police Brutality or Excessive Force
A federal law known as section 1983 allows individuals to sue and collect money damages for a violation of their civil rights committed by state actors. This includes police brutality or excessive force by law enforcement. If you have been the victim of excessive force, a knowledgeable and experienced police brutality lawyer will know how to build a case against the responsible police officers, police department or government entity, and get you a fair amount of compensation for the injuries you have suffered. Contact the Lasseter Law Firm in Birmingham at 205-438-6591 for a free, confidential consultation with an experienced and successful Alabama police brutality lawyer.