Police Misconduct – A Worrying Trend

Police Brutality in the United States is nothing new.  It’s something that is seemingly in the headlines every day. According to the Police Violence Report, a non-profit which closely monitors claims of police brutality and violence, in 2017, there were 1,147 instances where law enforcement killed civilians. That amounts to nearly one killing every two and a half days.

What makes these figures so shocking is that these are only for deaths attributed to police officers. Cases of police brutality are impossible to calculate. What is known, however, is that according to the US Department of Justice, 52 percent of law enforcement officers report that it is not unusual for officials to turn a blind eye to improper conduct by colleagues. In addition, 61 percent of officers say they do not always report serious abuses they witnesses,  and 43 percent agree with the statement “Always following the rules is not compatible with the need to get their job done.”

Police Violence in Florida

Living in Florida, it is apparent to all that this problem is felt acutely in the Sunshine State. Take the case of Rodney Mitchell who was shot on June 11, 2012, in Sarasota. Pulled over for seatbelt violation by Deputies Adam Shaw and Troy Sasse, Mitchell’s cousin remembers the deputies aggressively saying, “Boy, why didn’t you stop the car?” As Mitchell moved his hands from the steering wheel to park the car in compliance with the officers, they fatally shot him. An investigation determined Mitchell was unarmed, but the shooting was ruled justified.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement can say how many purse snatchings there were in any given year, but not how many times officers fired on citizens. The FBI’s statistics on police shootings aren’t much better. No one keeps an accurate count.”

Based on extensive research of over 10,000 pages of police documents, the Times reports that police shot 827 individuals in Florida in the six years between 2009 and 2014. Over half of those shot – 434 individuals – were killed. The youngest victim was two, the oldest, 80.

But the number of shootings in Florida don’t tell the whole story. The most commonly reported form of police misconduct in 2010 was excessive force. This statistic is similar to the data collected in 2001 by the U.S. Government. That government report documented 6,826 victims of police misconduct that year. Sure, this number may seem low, but researchers relied upon the voluntary admission of misconduct reports of police departments across the county. Only five percent of those departments complied. This means that a hidden list of tens of thousands of unreported instances of police misconduct across the nation every year.

Section 1983

When an individual is the victim of excessive force or brutality at the hands of the police or other law enforcement agencies, they have the legal recourse to file suit against those who violated their trust in public officials. Enshrined in law in 1871 as a way to fight the rampant abuses of the Ku Klux Klan in the American South, The Civil Rights Act of 1871 provides legal redress for those whose rights have been violated by the police.

The Civil Rights Act of 1871 is a federal statute allowing suits against the US government for violations of civil rights.  Enshrined under federal law as statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for which it gets its more common name “Section 1983,” the law states that:

“Every person who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, Suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.”

“Under Color” of State Law

For a Section 1983 suit to be admissible, the individual who is being sued must be considered to have acted “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage” or a state, territory of the District of Columbia.  “Under color of” has been determined by courts to require the individual being sued to be considered a representative of the state when they were depriving the victim of their civil rights. Many different factors are considered to see if the individual was acting “under color” of the state, including:

  • Was the person “on duty?”
  • Were they wearing an official uniform?
  • Was law enforcement equipment used (for example handcuffs)?
  • Was an arrest carried out?
  • Did the person claim to be an officer?

“Persons” Under Section 1983

The legal definition of “person” under Section 1983 is exceptionally complex and require the advice of an experienced attorney.  Being the victim of routine police action, however, can not be considered a violation of civil rights. Those acting in an entirely private capacity, such as private security or businesses, cannot be sued for Section 1983 cases of abuse, though other torts and legal remedies are available.

A 1971 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Officers determined that lawsuits could be brought for Fourth Amendment violations even if there are no statutes authorizing litigation. In essence, this ruling states that there is a legal remedy for every wrongful action.

Are You A Victim of Police Brutality? Contact a South Florida Attorney Today

If you believe your civil rights have been abused by an officer or official acting “under color” of state law,  you should contact an experienced attorney to discuss your case.

Chad Piotrowski has an extensive background in aggressively defending his clients from charges ranging from marijuana possession to armed drug trafficking and murder. A former prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, Chad Piotrowski has the unique ability to anticipate prosecution strategies to help build a solid defense to help obtain the best possible outcome for his clients.

Chad is a dogged defender of the rights of his clients who are the victims of police misconduct and brutality. He has extensive experience in the field, including recently suing on behalf of the family of Junior Prosper, a Miami man shot and killed by police alongside I-95 in 2015.

If you are looking for an experienced and passionate legal defense lawyer who will relentlessly fight for you, call Piotrowski Law today at (305) 204-5000 for your free consultation.