Birmingham Police Brutality Attorney
Aggressive and Thoughtful Litigators Who Genuinely Care
Burrell & McCants, LLC is a well-respected law firm with good relationships in the Birmingham community. We possess the skill, knowledge, and professional experience to litigate your case in court, even with cases as complicated (and continually challenged) as civil cases of police brutality. Our attorneys are innovative problem solvers who will put up an aggressive fight for you in court.
What is Police Misconduct?
Federal law makes it unlawful for state or local law enforcement officers to engage in conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Specifically, the law protects individuals against excessive force, discriminatory harassment, false arrests, coercive sexual conduct, and unlawful stops, searches, or arrests, among other things. Note that in order for an action to qualify as police misconduct under this law, though, the misconduct must constitute a "pattern or practice," not simply an isolated incident.
What is Excessive Force?
Excessive force refers to situations where government officials legally entitled to use force exceed the amount necessary to diffuse an incident or protect themselves or others from harm. Incidents of excessive force can arise in different contexts, such as when handling prisoners or making arrests. Excessive force that involves a law enforcement officer, especially during an arrest, is also referred to as police brutality.
The Use of Deadly Force
The constitutional right to be protected from excessive force is established in the reasonable search and seizure requirement of the Fourth Amendment and the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment. Further, in the landmark Supreme Court case Tennessee v. Garner, the court ruled that deadly force can only be used during an arrest if:
- it is necessary to prevent the alleged offender’s escape; and
- the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
Note that excessive force and police brutality not only apply to cases of deadly force, but also to injuries that are relatively minor but resulted from an unreasonable use of force. Examples of police brutality include unlawful takedowns, baton beatings, unwarranted use of firearms, and unwarranted use of tasers.
How to Determine is a Police Officer Used Excessive Force
Be aware that whether or not the use of force by a police officer was excessive depends largely on the facts and circumstances of the case; the intentions or motivations of the officer are not deciding factors. Even if an officer had good intentions, but their force was unnecessary, an individual can still claim police brutality.
When deciding whether a government official such as a police officer engaged in excessive force, courts will examine the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the actions were "objectively reasonable." In making this determination, judges will use the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene lacking the benefit of hindsight, analyzing factors like:
- the severity of the underlying crime or circumstances;
- whether an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others existed;
- whether the individual was actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee;
- whether other alternatives were available; or
- whether warnings were provided or could have been provided.
However, it is important to note the concept of qualified immunity, which protects public officials from civil liability for violations of rights as long as they were reasonably performing their duties and the rights involved were not "clearly established." In excessive force cases, qualified immunity can protect police officers in harder to evaluate situations where there's an unclear border between excessive and acceptable force. To benefit from this immunity, though, officials would need to show that a reasonable person in their position wouldn't have known that their actions violated clearly established law.
Understanding False Arrests
Regarding false arrest, law enforcement officers are not allowed to arrest individuals without a warrant or probable cause. Doing so is a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure. A false arrest can also give rise to other civil rights violations such as wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution in addition to claims of police brutality.
Litigating a Police Brutality Case
Excessive force is a constitutional violation that is generally remedied by filing a civil rights complaint for monetary or injunctive relief. Individuals can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, which may decide to investigate the case in depth.
The burden of proof is higher when suing law enforcement in a civil police brutality case, as in such cases it is often presumed that the officer acted appropriately given the circumstances, and the plaintiff must present clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. The plaintiff should work with an experienced police brutality attorney to show that the actions of the police officer exceeded reasonable use, violated the person’s constitutional rights, and resulted in injury. This is usually proven by showing extensive evidence, including photographs and video footage of the incident, eyewitness accounts from bystanders, medical records documenting the physical injuries, etc. It is also important to emphasize, in the face of these injuries, that the officer’s actions directly violated the law of their prescribed duties.
Contact Burrell & McCants, LLC Immediately
If a Birmingham police officer has used excessive force against you and subjected you to unconstitutional police brutality, you have the right to take legal action against their unlawful behavior. A passionate and experienced police brutality lawyer can effectively help you build your civil case and take it to court. No one should be brutalized by the very law enforcement officers whose duties are to protect.
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