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Excessive Force and Abuse Sometimes Don’t Appear in Officers’ Files


It is difficult to know if an otherwise good police officer, a good person with a clean prior record, will exceed the force necessary to do his or her job. But sometimes, there is a way to predict bad behavior—simply check the officer’s background before hiring him or her. Yet, that seemingly easy step is being made more complicated as officers with records of brutality and excessive force are allowed to take new jobs, in different law enforcement agencies.

Hidden Sexual Assault

A recent article highlights this exact problem, telling of a clerk that was sexually harassed by police officers. The officers wanted her to perform sexual favors for them, and threatened her employment if she did not comply.

Although an investigation confirmed the clerk’s report, all of the officers involved were permitted to leave the department without any indication in their personnel files that they had been allegedly involved in the assault. The officers were hired by a small, nearby law enforcement agency.

The problem is not limited to sexual assaults either. The officer involved in the highly publicized Tamir Rice shooting in 2014 was rehired by another, smaller police department just two years after the shooting occurred.

Records are Incomplete

The problem is that investigations are not courts of law. There is often no official court judgment adjudicating people guilty. When there are allegations that constitute “he said/she said” scenarios, officers are often allowed to resign, quit, or relocate, without anything negative appearing on their records.

The problem is made worse by the many law enforcement agencies that are just too small and understaffed to deal with proper investigation of harassment claims, or which do not have the resources to fully vet new hires for prior problems. In many cases, departments prefer for officers to voluntarily resign, without completing an investigation, in order to save time, resources and money. However, those officers can then get other jobs, with a seemingly clean record.

Problems with Investigations

In many police departments, officers have rights provided to them by law, by union contract, or just by tradition. As a result, victims often feel like complaining will be futile or lead to retaliation.

Many investigations are conducted by other police officers. In smaller departments, these police officers may be family friends, or colleagues who are friends apart from work. Many police departments have problems hiring new officers, and fear being understaffed by formally disciplining police officers for misconduct.

Often, claims for police brutality include allegations of negligent hiring, allegations that the department could have and should have known that an officer had prior problems, but failed to uncover this information. Many police departments will deny having any knowledge that an officer had any prior record of police brutality or of using excessive force. Proving knowledge can require an in-depth inquiry into an officer’s prior employment history.

Contact the Alabama police misconduct attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to help you fully investigate whether you have a claim or lawsuit involving excessive force, wrongful prosecution, or any other kind of police misconduct.


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