What You Need to Know About Suing a Police Department


2/25/2019

If you’ve been the victim of police brutality or other unlawful police action, it’s easy to feel helpless. After all, the very people who are supposed to protect you from harm are the ones who violated your rights. Fortunately, you may have options.

Both federal and state laws protect private individuals from being abused by police and other law enforcement officers. In some cases, victims may be able to recover significant compensation for the harms that they have sustained at the hands of the police and hold the officers that violated their rights accountable.

If the cops violated your rights, it’s imperative that you speak to a lawyer right away. Philadelphia civil rights attorney Lauren Wimmer is committed to holding the police accountable and will not hesitate to file a claim against any law enforcement agency if the facts warrant it. To schedule a free consultation with Ms. Wimmer, call our office today at 215-712-1212.

Section 1983 of The Civil Rights Act of 1871

Individuals who believe that they are the victims of excessive force by a police officer may sue the officer individually – as well as the police department that employs the officer.

When private citizens sue a police department, they typically do so pursuant to Section 1983 of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1871. This law is sometimes referred to as just “Section 1983.” This statute effectively precludes a police officer or other government official or law enforcement personnel from violating someone’s civil rights under the United States Constitution. A police officer, for example, cannot subject a person to an unlawful search or seizure, in accordance with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Suing a Police Department

When private citizens sue an individual cop, they will likely sue the employer police department as well, and both will be defendants in the lawsuit. The bases for a lawsuit against a police department in Philadelphia can include discrimination, false arrest, harassment, and/or excessive force used by a police officer.

In order to sue the police department for harassment or unlawful discrimination, you must demonstrate that a particular officer engaged in a pattern of harassing or discriminatory behavior.

You could also sue the police department for false arrest. In that instance, you would likely contend that your Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures was violated. You may also allege that the police officer who initiated the arrest did not have the necessary evidence, probable cause, or warrant to make a valid and legal arrest. However, if the police officer reasonably believed that he or she had probable cause, most courts will not determine that the police engaged in any unlawful activity.

Finally, you contend that the arresting police officer used excessive force when arresting or chasing after you. This is especially true if you suffered a serious injury which you contend was caused by the officer’s excessive use of force.

However, a police officer is allowed to use an amount of force which is proportionate to the amount of force being used against him or her. In some limited instances, a police officer might even be justified in using deadly force, assuming the victim used deadly force against the officer.

In addition to showing that the police officer (and by extension the police department) are at fault, the victim must also be able to show that he or she suffered injuries or damages as a result. The victim may allege, for example, that as a result of excessive force by the arresting police officer, he or she should recover medical bills and damages for physical pain and suffering incurred.

In some limited instances, the police officer or police department may have to pay punitive damages. A judge or jury will only award punitive damages if the officer acted in an egregious manner. The purpose of punitive damages in cases like these is to discourage future wrongful conduct by police officers and police departments, and they are rarely awarded.

Protecting Your Rights after the Police Violated Them

If you believe the police have violated your rights, there are certain steps that you should take to protect your rights in the future. The most important of these include the following:

  • Save all evidence – You should make sure to save all evidence which could shed light on exactly what occurred during the incident. Photographs can be particularly powerful pieces of evidence in this context.
  • Speak to witnesses – Witnesses can be very helpful when it comes to prosecuting cases that involve police brutality or excessive force by police officers. Witnesses who were present at the time of the occurrence may remember what took place.
  • Hire a lawyer – A skilled Philadelphia civil rights lawyer can ensure that all potential evidence in the case is properly preserved, that all witnesses are interviewed, and that your rights are protected.

It’s important to keep in mind that the police departments have been known to protect their own, so you should tread carefully when making reports regarding alleged police brutality or other wrongdoing. As a general rule, it’s highly advisable to retain legal counsel before taking any steps that may let the police know that you are considering filing an official complaint.

Contact a Philadelphia Civil Rights Attorney Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation

If the police have violated your rights, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. No one is above the law, including the police, and victims often can hold the cops and the departments that employ them accountable for their losses. Philadelphia civil rights lawyer Lauren Wimmer can review the evidence in your case and explain your legal options. To schedule your free consultation and case evaluation with an experienced attorney, please call today at 215-712-1212, or contact us online.