What Police Brutality Victims Need to Know About Their Case

What Can We Learn in the Wake of Police Shootings Around the Country?

The deaths of George Floyd and Jacob Blake are just the tip of the iceberg.  Cell phone video taken by innocent bystanders has opened our eyes to police brutality.  It has opened our eyes to the pervasiveness of racism.  It has exposed for the world to see, that in America, Black people continue to be treated very differently from white people.  In this post, we will cover some of the most important questions concerning cases of police brutality.

Are You a Victim of Police Brutality?

Time Is of the Essence. Your claim must be filed ASAP.  The timeline for bringing a case against a government employee is short and the #1 reason victims are unable to file is that they missed key deadlines.  If you are a victim, contact a police brutality lawyer immediately about your case.

Do I Have a Case Against the Police for Brutality?

If you have been:

• physically abused by a cop
• falsely arrested
• mistreated while in custody

The first thing you should do is contact an attorney right away.

What Are the Timelines for Filing A Police Brutality Case?

In cases against government employees, there are strict filing requirements.  You must file a claim within a short amount of time.  Even if you file a claim on time, you must still file a lawsuit on time, too.  Failure to timely file a claim and also to timely file a lawsuit means you may not be able to recover monetary damages.

The filing deadlines can vary depending upon the state you live in, the responsible government entity, and whether you are in federal or state court.  Only a lawyer experienced in police brutality cases can properly advise you and protect your rights before they might be lost due to delay.

What Do I Have to Prove to Collect Damages From the Police?

If you were injured by a police officer or a correctional officer, you are entitled to collect monetary damages if unreasonable force was used against you.  Among the factors to consider are the following:

1. The seriousness of the crime

2. Whether you reasonably appeared to pose an immediate threat to the officer’s safety

3. Whether you were actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest.  An officer who makes or attempts to make an arrest is not required to retreat or cease from his or her efforts because of the resistance or threatened resistance of the person being arrested.

Reasonable force is considered from the perspective of what would have appeared to be reasonable to a person in the officer’s position under the same or similar conditions. 

In all but the most high profile cases, you will need to file a lawsuit to prove your case.  Once a lawsuit is filed, your lawyer has the power to compel the police to produce records, video, audio, photographs, and other key pieces of evidence.

How Will I Pay for my Case Against the Police?

A lawyer who has been successful in representing victims of police brutality will fund your case for you. The lawyer will be paid out of your settlement.  That means you will not have any upfront expenses to pay. You may need experts in police procedures, racial bias, proper police tactics as well as doctors, which are all very expensive.  

Use of force experts will be retained by the police and will give opinions about the reasonableness of the cop’s conduct under the circumstances.  

Your lawyer will need to retain experts to counter those opinions and to corroborate and explain the evidence to show the officer acted unreasonably.    

You may also need experts to talk about future income losses, job retraining, and long-term care.  The cost of handling police brutality cases means that a case must be economical to pursue, otherwise lawyers who pay for your case upfront will not want to take it on.  

The factors for a lawyer to consider include: 

1. How badly you are injured

2. How difficult will it be to prove the cops acted unreasonably

3. How much your medical bills and wage losses amount to

What if a Police Brutality Lawyer Won’t Take My Case?

There is an option. Even if we don’t think your case is economical to pursue, we can help you make an administrative complaint against a bad cop so that there is a record for the future. 

What if the Officer Wrongly Used Deadly Force?

To recover monetary damages in a civil case where deadly force was used, you need to prove that the police officer’s use of deadly force was unreasonable.  A police officer’s use of deadly force is reasonable if the officer had probable cause to believe that the suspect posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

An officer may not use deadly force to apprehend a suspect where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer or others.  On the other hand, an officer may be able to use deadly force to prevent a suspect from escaping where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others.

How Innocent Bystanders Can Help

Cell phone videos taken by innocent bystanders are game-changers.  Officer body cameras may exist, but they are not mandatory in most states.  Patrol car cameras may also exist, but again not all police cars are equipped.  Americans must demand of their police force that all officers and all patrol cars are equipped with video.  There is no good reason to do otherwise.  In cases where deadly force was used, the only evidence of the officer’s conduct may be video.

Do I Have a Right to Resist Unlawful Arrest or Detention?

You cannot use force, even reasonable force, to resist an unlawful detention or arrest.  An unlawful arrest or detention by a police officer does not give license to an individual to strike or assault the officer.  However, if the officer is using excessive force against you or threatens to use excessive force against you, then you do have the right to resist in self-defense.

Can I Sue for False Arrest?

Consistent with the rule that you do not have a right to resist an unlawful detention or arrest unless the officer is using or threatening to use excessive force against you, you still have a remedy.  You have the right to sue for false arrest after the fact.

What Does Probable Cause Mean?

The term probable cause means that something is more likely than not the case.  When something is shown by a probability, the scales need only be tipped to one side.  If the scales are in balance, there is not a probability.  The scales only need to be tipped ever so slightly.  Anything more than 50% will suffice to establish probable cause. 

What Are the Types of Encounters Police Can Have with People?
There are several different kinds of encounters the police have with people. 

1. The consensual encounter.  In a consensual encounter, no cause is needed for an officer to make contact with a person so long as the person is free not to cooperate and free to leave.

2. A detention.  A detention is a brief stop of a person for questioning or a limited investigation.  A person detained is not free to leave.  In order to justify a detention, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred and that the person detained is involved in that illegal activity.

3. An arrest.  A person who is arrested is in police custody.  In order to justify an arrest, the officer must have probable cause to believe a crime has occurred and the suspect is involved.  Probable cause is decided in accordance with the circumstances that existed at the time of the arrest.

Do I Have A Case for Police Brutality Based on the Way I Was Treated in Custody?

You may be awarded monetary damages for injuries suffered while incarcerated or for wrongful convictions (in certain circumstances).  

People who are incarcerated and who suffer serious injury may recover damages against corrections officials if certain things can be proven:

1. The conduct or failure to act by prison officials must have created a substantial risk of serious harm to the inmate.

2. The prison employees or administrators must have known that the conduct in question or the failure to act created a substantial risk to the inmate’s health and safety.

If there is no reasonable justification for the conduct or the failure to act by prison officials, the inmate may recover money for his or her physical injuries and damages.

What Are Examples of Neglect While in Custody?

At the Law Offices of Barry Zimmerman, we have seen cases of neglect:

• when inmates were left unattended in cells causing serious injury
• when inmates were denied adequate medical care
• when inmates were housed in dangerous situations
• when inmates were subjected to prison conditions that created a substantial risk of serious harm
• due to Covid-19

Do Cops Frequently Lose In Court?

Police officers rarely get prosecuted.  They rarely lose their jobs.  They are trained by other police officers and have very little independent oversight.

Police officers have a considerable amount of discretion to perform their job. Cops are at the front line in keeping order and enforcing the law.  We know police officers have a difficult job to do.  In recognition, the law states that in calculating whether the amount of force was excessive, we must recognize that peace officers are often faced to make split-second judgments in tense circumstances concerning the amount of force required. 

Because of many factors including the broad and expansive standard of reasonableness as well as systemic racism and bias, cops do not frequently lose in court.  Almost all of us have a family member or someone close to them that is in law enforcement.  Any lawyer that has ever picked a jury knows this to be true. 

The highest profile civil cases against police officers usually settle before trial with the officer paying nothing out of his or her pocket and keeping his or her job.

What is the Future of Police Enforcement in America?

The future of police enforcement in America is uncertain.  Lawyers deal with excessive force on a case-by-case basis.  Systemic change will require us to admit the truth about racism, bias, and white power.  

Technology including mandatory body cameras, in-car cameras, and surveillance cameras can also help hold cops accountable and bring about better police practices.  Transparency in the form of public access to citizen complaints against police officers is also absolutely necessary.  Taking swift action against police officers and providing the public with visual evidence will also help dispel doubts about cover ups and conspiracy.  This will take leadership and independence and honesty to do the right thing even when it is not the most popular road to take.

We Can Help

We have handled cases of police brutality against county sheriff’s departments, state highway patrol, city police officers, and other law enforcement officers. We are experienced in filing lawsuits in both state and federal court.  

We have also worked together with other lawyers on behalf of individuals who were wrongfully convicted.  Monetary damages for time unjustifiably spent in custody can never make up for what was done, but it does offer some solace and serves as a check on abuse of power.

If you believe you have a case against a police officer, call my office at 530-823-0705, my cell 530-305-7396, or fill out this contact form for a free consultation.

About Barry Zimmerman

Barry ZimmermanBarry A. Zimmerman opened his firm in Auburn, California in 1994. Mr. Zimmerman has been practicing law since 1987. He has been recognized by Sacramento Magazine in the August 2020 issue as one of the top attorneys in the Sacramento area. Mr. Zimmerman has consistently been recognized by his peers as a Northern California Super Lawyer. In addition to his practice in civil law, Mr. Zimmerman is the senior attorney at the Cohen Defense Group specializing in criminal defense. Mr. Zimmerman has also been certified as a specialist in Criminal Law by the State Bar of California for over 15 years.