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Legal Action For Police Brutality

Police brutality is an all too common reality in America and all over the world.  A large number of documented cases — and many more not documented due to victims not seeking redress — confirm that some officers abuse their authority, and many more cover up for them.  The state of California, like the rest of the United States, has its share of officers who abuse their authority to engage in police brutality and other misconduct.

What Is Police Brutality?

Police brutality is generally where police use excessive, unreasonable, or unnecessary force against a person, or engage in overly aggressive tactics.  It is a misdemeanor in California when a “public officer who, under color of authority and without lawful necessity, assaults or beats any person.”    Similar California laws protect inmates and prisoners from abuse.  The Fourth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution, along with similar California Constitutional provisions, also protect all people in the United States and California from police and jail brutality along with other law enforcement misconduct.

It is also the law, and police in California are trained, that although California Penal Code Section 834a states that the person being arrested must submit to an arrest, if unlawful or unreasonable force is used to effect the arrest, the person being arrested may lawfully resist to overcome that force.  And, all officers have the duty to intervene to stop fellow officers from using excessive force or otherwise violating rights in their presence if they can do so.

It is a fact that police brutality and misconduct disproportionately affects vulnerable disadvantaged groups and communities of color.  But no one is immune or safe from police brutality — many cases document instances of police brutality and misconduct against people in power and even against off-duty officers.

What To Do About It?

Filing a citizen’s complaint with the law enforcement agency or filing a civil rights lawsuit in court are possible ways to seek justice for police brutality. In the first option, the officer’s department must receive your complaint and conduct an investigation.  Many people are not satisfied with the result of a police department’s administrative investigation as it is common for police department investigation to favor the officer.  In the second option, people generally need to be represented by a civil rights attorney to help them navigate the court process.  A successful civil right lawsuit can result in a vindication of rights, money damages for the victim’s injuries and losses, and in some cases, reforms.

Practical Details for Police Brutality Lawsuits

Civil rights lawsuits are complicated and involve not only court procedures but also tricky legal defenses that law enforcement officers may assert when sued.  In addition, strict deadlines apply.  In California, the first deadline generally requires a tort claim to be filed with the involved government (usually the city, county, or state for which the officer works) within six months of the incident.  Other deadlines also apply, and sometimes those deadlines can be unclear.  Being incarcerated can affect certain deadlines and not others.  So it is very important to seek legal advice from a competent civil rights lawyer as soon as possible.  Also, evidence must be preserved, and injuries documented and treated.  An experienced civil rights attorney will give you the details and assessment you need to understand your options and all of these requirements.


If you have been subjected to police brutality or misconduct and may wish to bring a civil rights lawsuit for damages, you should contact a civil rights attorney as soon as possible after the incident.  If possible, seek out an experienced civil rights attorney with a track record of winning civil rights cases — not just injury cases.  This will allow you to learn about your options and increase your likelihood of success if you and your attorney decide to pursue civil rights claims.

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.