Police Misconduct Laws and Claims in D.C.

Having an understanding of ways citizens can fight back when their rights have been violated by law enforcement officers is crucial. Being aware of police misconduct laws helps citizens know when and how they can make a legal claim of unnecessary use of excessive force against police officers. These claims would be considered civil claims, as opposed to criminal claims, in an effort to pursue justice against an officer if they have mistreated an individual or mishandled a situation using excessive force more than is legally justified.

What determines excessive force in an arrest?

The circumstances of an arrest determine whether or not an individual is able to file for excessive use of force against an officer. When reflecting on the circumstances of the arrest, there are two main things to consider: Did the officer have probable cause to make an arrest for a criminal offense? If they did have probable cause, how did the officer use force to make the arrest?

While officers do have the right to use a reasonable amount of force while making an arrest, anything that might exceed what is considered reasonable could possibly prompt a claim against an officer. Not only does this include any sort of physical harm, but also potentially any mental or emotional harm. These situations might pose an individual the opportunity to file a claim against the District of Columbia.

How to file a federal claim of excessive force

When filing for a claim, there are two main routes to potentially pursue. The first of which is making a federal claim against an officer for the use of excessive force. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures. If the officer violated any constitutional rights. This could be either because the officer lacked probable cause to make the arrest, or that they used more force than they had to in order to make the arrest. On the other hand, the individual may also be able to make some common law claims against the officer including assault and battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, etc. These claims against the officer would be made through the District of Columbia, on behalf of the actions of the officer.

This process has time limits if you intend to file a complaint with the city. First and foremost, you must notify the city within 180 days of the incident if you intend to sue, based on the events that took place during an arrest. In doing so, you can send a letter to the mayor’s office here. This letter should describe the circumstances surrounding your case, the date that it occurred, and any injuries that you suffered. This letter will put the city on notice that you intend to file a lawsuit in the future.

Furthermore, if you intend to make any common law claims, your statute of limitations is one year for claims such as assault and battery, false arrest, or false imprisonment. In other words, an individual has one year to file a complaint in court proceeding from the date the incident occurred.

If you choose to make a federal claim, the constitutional violations against the officer has a statute of limitations of three years, which gives you more time to do so. However, it is a safer bet to make all possible claims when drafting a complaint and when a complaint is filed. Ideally, the complaint should be filed within a year of its occurrence.

The doctrine of “qualified immunity,” was originally created to protect law enforcement officers from tedious lawsuits that might occur as a result of “split-second decisions” they make on the job. This protection has led to a culture of injustice when citizens try to fight back against the system. The issue with the doctrine is that it relies on the idea that there must be a “clearly established” precedent to act as a model for officers to follow. If there is no established precedent of a situation, officers often are able to get away with illegal and harmful conduct. This has led to unnecessary violence, murders of many innocent civilians, and far too many instances of police brutality. There is currently an effort among the Supreme Court to move towards abolishing qualified immunity and how it plays a role in the criminal justice system today.

You can fight back if you have been mistreated by law enforcement, even if they are still currently protected by qualified immunity. It is important to note that if you are charged with criminal misconduct, it is recommended that you seek legal advice from a defense attorney prior to filing a complaint with the city or against the officer. This will ensure that your rights remain protected while charges are pending.

For more information regarding excessive force claims or misconduct against a police officer, contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free confidential evaluation.