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Excessive Force and Police Brutality


We all know that police officers have to be given freedom to do their job. Officers do difficult and dangerous work, and often using force is a necessary part of their job. This is why civil suits that allege damages for excessive force can be so difficult to prove.

The Standard for Police Brutality

In normal negligence cases we ask what a reasonable person in the same or a similar situation would do or how such a person would act. If someone acts differently, causing injury, they are negligent.

Police misconduct cases are a bit different. Nobody asks that police officers be perfect. We only ask that if they make mistakes, they be mistakes that most reasonable police officers would make.

That makes the legal standard somewhat different. When judging the actions of police officers, we are asking what an officer, similarly trained, and in the same or a similar situation would do.

This means that the officer is held to a higher standard than a lay person. While many people may be very frightened in a given situation or fearful enough to want to use excessive force, that doesn’t mean that a fully trained and experienced police officer would be. 

Showing Excessive Force

Many factors go into making this “reasonable officer” determination. For example, how much or how little someone resists arrest can come into play. Fleeing a scene can allow an officer to use more force than would be allowable (although fleeing by itself does not automatically allow an officer to use more force than necessary). Even environmental factors like lighting can affect how a reasonable officer would perceive a situation.

The fact that someone who is a victim of excessive force may have been “guilty” of (or actually doing) whatever crime the officer was addressing is not a valid defense to police misconduct.

Usually it will be for the victim to show that an officer’s force went above and beyond what was needed. This can be demonstrated by the use of expert testimony. It is common to utilize police or security experts who may have many years experience in law enforcement to testify that what an officer did was unreasonable or excessive.

Although experts are useful, it will usually be a jury making a determination as to what is and what is not reasonable. Sometimes, police take actions so extreme they don’t require any expert testimony; the behavior is so uncalled for that a jury can use its own common sense to decide that an officer exceeded the force necessary.

With more officers using body cameras or in-car dash cameras, video evidence can be very powerful as well, although video sometimes will not capture sound or low light conditions. Still, obtaining whatever video evidence is available can help prove a misconduct case.

Have you been injured because of police misconduct or the use of excessive force? Contact the Alabama police misconduct attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to discuss whether you have a cause of action for damages.

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