Police Excessive Force Lawsuits

What Is “Excessive Force” by Police?

There is no concrete definition of “excessive force” since each case is different. Indeed, “excessive” has different meanings in different jurisdictions. The level of force appropriate for a given situation is essentially a judgment call made by individual officers who are often in the “heat of the chase” when they are making these decisions. In most cases, officers are expected to use the minimum amount of force required to achieve a safe and effective outcome, but this doesn’t always happen.

Like police brutality, excessive force can refer to a wide range of situations. You will need to speak with an attorney to understand your legal options and rights.

Examples of excessive force by police may include:

  • Repeatedly using physical force, such as punching or kicking a suspect while he or she is subdued or in custody, and not resisting
  • Shooting an unarmed suspect or using a weapon against someone who did not pose a danger to the officer
  • Using or threatening to use force as an intimidation tactic on suspects or witnesses
  • Using a choke hold to make an arrest

By law, police should only use the amount of force needed to conduct an arrest – no more. Police have the authority to use force where necessary in order to diffuse a situation and keep themselves and other people safe. However, there are times when police officers overstep their bounds and use more force than is warranted to subdue a suspect or handle a prisoner. When this happens, it is referred to as “excessive force” or “police brutality” and he/she not only risks hurting the victim, but can lead to a violation of his/her civil rights.

Your Rights & the “Use of Force Continuum”

Most agencies have guidelines for use of force. According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), a common use of force continuum is:

  • Officer Presence
  • Non-Physical Force (Verbal)
  • Empty-Hand force
  • Less-Lethal Methods
  • Lethal Force

According to the NIJ, the presence of a law enforcement officer is the best way to resolve a situation. At this point, the officer should not appear threatening but should be professional. In many cases, the presence of a police officer is enough to deter crime. The next best option is non-physical force or verbal force. Verbalization should be non-threatening and professional.

If verbalization is not enough, officers may implement empty-hand control or less-lethal methods to obtain control of an incident. Empty-hand control refers to joint locks, holds, and grabs; less-lethal methods involve the use of a weapon, such as a baton or chemical spray. Law enforcement is only allowed to implement lethal force if the suspect poses a lethal threat to officers or another person.

Bringing an Excessive Force Case to Court

In order to bring a successful case against a police officer, you must overcome “qualified immunity.” This is the most common defense against police excessive force or police brutality. With this defense, law enforcement claims immunity from such lawsuit. This means you must be able to show that the actions of the police officer exceeded the bounds of reason.

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The Russell Friedman Law Group, LLP provides legal guidance and representation for victims of police brutality in New York and New Jersey. Our civil rights lawyers are committed to helping people like you not only stand up for their rights but get the justice they deserve after being unjustly treated by law enforcement officials.

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Have you been affected by police misconduct such as excessive force? Contact a New York excessive force attorney at The Russell Friedman Law Group, LLP today.