Phoenix Police Brutality Attorneys
Upholding your legal rights when law enforcement uses excessive force
Police officers and law enforcement are duty-bound to protect the public. That’s why they’re hired: to make living in Phoenix and all parts of Arizona safe. Their duties often require them to work in dangerous situations. Police do need to use force sometimes to apprehend wrongdoers, but a balance must be struck. Police can’t use excessive force. They can’t arrest everyone they see. They can’t plant evidence on someone. There is a fundamental principle in law that people are innocent until proven guilty. In law enforcement, police need to balance their safety with the rights of the people they question and the people they suspect of crimes.
Often police review boards and other internal measures don’t work to stop police who commit police brutality or commit police misconduct. Civil lawsuits send a message – loud and clear – that police must follow the US and Arizona Constitution. They must respect your rights. They must comply with federal and state laws. They must work for every citizen.
At Plattner Verderame, P.C., our experienced trial lawyers work to hold police officers and the agencies, towns, counties, and governments they work for – accountable when officers cross the line. We demand that officers and those who employ the officers honor the rights of everyone they come into conduct with. When the fail to follow the laws and respected police procedures, we demand they pay damages for your physical harm, pain and suffering from any injuries, and lost wages. We also seek punitive damages and any other damages the laws allow.
A summary of police shootings in Arizona
The Arizona Republic looked into the history of police shootings in Arizona since 2011. The report found this alarming fact: Every five days, someone is shot by an Arizona police officers. Per their research:
- There were 600 police shootings between 2011 and 2018.
- Officers fired their weapons 627 times.
- 353 people died.
- There were 117 police shootings in 2018 alone – “a 75% increase from the previous year, and perhaps the most in Arizona’s history.”
- 13 officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last 8 years.
The worst offenses are happening right here at home. “In 2018, police shootings hit record levels in Phoenix, the fifth most populous city in the country. Phoenix had more police shootings than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston. The number of police shootings in Phoenix more than doubled from 2017; over the same span, police shootings in similarly-sized cities fell.” There were 201 Phoenix Police Department shootings
That question isn’t easy to answer. The Arizona Republic says its “analysis identified some key factors: guns, aggressive behavior, mental illness, training, police culture.”
A 2018 piece in The New Yorker seems to echo these sentiments, but adds one more: fear.
“There is also a subtler, secondary effect: a fear about potential gun violence that colors interactions not only among civilians but also between civilians and law-enforcement officers. The police have no way of immediately determining whether an armed person is legally licensed to have that weapon—thus the paradox of summoning police to respond to reports of men bearing firearms in Louisiana, where [Anton] Sterling died, or in Arizona, where [Daniel] Shaver died, both of which are open-carry states…. The simple presence of a firearm is understood as a vector of danger, not simply by the stereotypical anti-Second Amendment liberal, who has never fired a weapon, but by the police, in their most consequential and dangerous moments on the job.”
The Arizona Republic found that in 89% of the police shooting cases, the people who were shot were armed.
Your civil rights remedies when police break the law
Most actions against police officers and the governmental entities (such as the state of Arizona or the city of Phoenix that hires them) are based on the Civil Rights Act of 1871. That Act can be found in Section 1983 of the United States Code. The shorthand reference for this act is called a “1983 action.” Our Phoenix police brutality and misconduct lawyers work to show victims meet the necessary requirements for filing a 1983 case. These requirements include:
- Showing that the officer acted “under color of” state or local law. Most police officers who commit misconduct during the line of duty do act on the basis of/under the color of state or local law. A 1983 case also allows victims of federal law enforcement misconduct to file a claim against the federal government. Judges will examine if the officer was on duty, using police equipment, was wearing a police uniform, and other factors to confirm that he/she was working for the government.
- The right to file a claim. The victims must be a US citizen or “other person within the jurisdiction” of Arizona.
- A violation of a right. The victim must suffer the deprivation of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the federal Constitution or federal laws. This section, through court rulings, also applies to violations of the Arizona constitution and Arizona’s laws. Examples of US Constitutions rights include:
- The right to due process. This is the part of the Constitution that applies to most excessive force, police brutality, and police misconduct cases.
- The right to be free from self-incrimination. Anyone arrested can’t be forced to testify against themselves.
- The right to be free from searches and seizures that aren’t based on warrants or probable cause.
Types of police misconduct
There are many situations and behaviors that can give rise to a civil complaint against a police officer or a governing body:
- Using excessive force such as shooting, beating, or assaulting a victim
- Using a taser gun
- Racial profiling
- Apprehending or arresting someone based on their race or other discriminatory factors
- Falsely arresting someone without probable cause
- Unauthorized searches and seizures
- Violating an Arizona resident’s due process rights, such as the right to a fair and speedy trial
- Malicious prosecution
- Being bitten or attacked by a police dog
Other wrongs and injuries depending on the facts of the case may justify a claim. For example, stopping someone for drunk driving even though there was no reason to believe the driver was intoxicated, or handcuffing someone without authority, can be grounds for a complaint.
Damages in civil rights claims
Police officers and the governmental entities that employ them are generally required to pay the following – if they are found liable for a 1983 wrong:
- All medical bills. This includes the cost for hospital surgeries, doctor visits, physical therapy, and emotional therapy.
- Any lost wages. This is the amount you lost because you couldn’t work due to a false arrest, physical harm, or for any other reason.
- Pain and suffering. Officers and governments who violate your 1983 rights should pay for your physical pain and emotional suffering.
- Punitive damages. A major part of any 1983 claim is the claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to send a message, to punish, the wrongdoers so that they don’t commit this type of misconduct again. Even though the damages are meant to protect other people, the damages are paid to the plaintiff – the person who files the 1983 lawsuit.
- Statutory damages. If the basis for the 1983 lawsuit is based on a federal or state law, then the victim may also be entitled to any specific damage amounts set forth in those laws.
- Legal fees. Generally, plaintiffs are also entitled to make a claim for their legal fees.
In addition to monetary damages, the court may order injunctive relief. For example, they may order that the government return any property or possessions that were illegally seized.
Other legal police misconduct claims
In addition to a 1983 claim, the families of police shootings that result in death may have the right to file a wrongful death claim against the police officer, the police department, and the local, state, or federal government. In wrongful death cases, Arizona claims are typically brought on behalf of spouses, children, and parents of minors.
Damages in wrongful death cases include:
- The cost of the funeral and burial
- Any medical bills
- Lost wages – the amount the shooting victim would have earned if he/she had survived
- Any property damage such as damage to a home or car
- The victim’s pain and suffering if death wasn’t instantaneous
- The pain and suffering of the surviving family members
- The value of the household services the shooting victim would have provided had he/she lived
- The value of the “care, companionship, and guidance” the decedent would have given the family members
We have to believe that what’s happening in Phoenix is an anomaly. We have spent our entire lives with a healthy respect for law enforcement; after all, our jobs as attorneys are about enforcing the upholding the laws which protect our clients. But we must also be realistic about what is happening in Phoenix and throughout the state, and about the people who are being hurt because of dangerous and reckless behaviors.
At Plattner Verderame, P.C., we believe in the rule of law, and we believe that all people – civilians and public servants alike – must be held accountable to it. If an act of excessive force or police misconduct by a member of local, state, or federal law enforcement led to your injuries, we can help protect your rights.
Call today to speak with a Phoenix Arizona police misconduct attorney
In many 1983 cases, the hardest part of the case is proving that there was misconduct. Almost always, the police and the government will try to shift blame to the victim or the person filing the claim. At Plattner Verderame, PC., our Phoenix injury lawyers have the experience and resources to investigate and litigate police misconduct. While we respect the work law enforcement does, we aggressively work to hold them accountable when they cross any legal lines. To speak with a skilled Phoenix civil rights lawyer today, call us at 602-783-8793 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.