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Police Brutality and Section 1983 Civil Rights Lawsuits

This content about police misconduct was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

Police misconduct and brutality is unfortunately widespread, but thankfully, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act is there to protect the rights of the victims. Under this section, a victim can sue over civil rights violations under color of law in a state or federal court, pursuing an injunction or damages.

Section 1983’s original purpose was to safeguard slaves who were freed after the Civil War, a time when it was common for law enforcement agents in the south to harass or attack them under color of law. It later became a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, allowing black individuals to sue and obtain damages.

Why is it a civil rights issue?

In the worst-case scenario, excessive or unreasonable use of force by law enforcement results in individuals being deprived of their right to life. In other cases, it may amount to torture or unfair treatment. Additionally, police misconduct can violate the right to liberty (false arrests), right to due process, right to be free from discrimination (racial profiling), and the right to equal protection under the law, just to name a few. These are all civil rights protected by federal legislation and the Constitution.

How Section 1983 lawsuits work

A Section 1983 claim is a civil rights lawsuit that can be filed by anyone who has had their rights violated under color of law, i.e., under the appearance of legal authority. This lawsuit can be directed at government actors and state and local officials, including police officers, sheriffs, sheriff’s deputies, prison guards/wardens, and other public officials. Nonetheless, Section 1983 does not allow to sue federal actors, unless they conspire with state or local officials. A Bivens claim would be the appropriate legal device to sue federal officials.

As far as the remedies you are entitled to under this type of claim, you may be granted:

  • Monetary damages: 

compensation for loss of income, medical bills, reduced earning capacity, and loss of liberty as a result of the civil rights violation.

  • Punitive damages: 

also known in California as “exemplary damages,” intended to punish the defendant. The amount is decided by the jury.

  • Injunctive relief: 

a court order demanding changes to prevent further violations of similar nature

Pursuing a civil rights lawsuit

All too often, victims of police violence feel discouraged from pressing charges against the offending officer or police department. But, although these are tough cases, you deserve to be heard in court if you so choose. Bay Area civil rights cases based on police violence are not that uncommon, as is the case for several other California counties. If you decide to pursue a Section 1983 lawsuit, make sure to hire a reputable and experienced civil rights attorney to help you navigate the complexities that these cases usually entail.

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.

This content was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.