Bringing a Civil Rights Case Against Law Enforcement
Often, people are apprehensive to reveal publicly that they were harmed by the police and would rather try to move on and avoid further harassment by the police. While there are laws prohibiting police officers from further victimizing a victim of police misconduct, it happens. This needs to stop, as there are enough problems as it is.
I encourage individuals to not fear retaliation by the police or the public, as it would be unfair to experience retaliation as a result of merely asserting one’s civil rights.
In the majority of cities, a civil rights violation is reported by filing a police complaint with the city, which is then sent to the police department. In San Francisco and Oakland, a separate entity will accept police complaints, which I believe relieves much of the apprehension around the filing of police complaints.
Filing a Police Complaint
My law office has done a lot of work involving police complaints, as well as research throughout the United States about the best avenues for filing a police complaint.
In Pomona, there was a grand jury about three years ago that ranked all of the local cities with regard to the filing of police complaints The 2018 Los Angeles Grand Jury report and Pomona came in last; the process for filing a police complaint was severely criticized. There has been some improvement in this area, as a police complaint can now be filed online through the website for the city of Pomona.
Other police complaint procedures are quite intimidating. For instance, the procedure in San Bernardino requires people to file the complaint at the police department with the watch commander. This is something that most people do not want to do, so it discourages people from seeking recourse for civil rights violations by police.
I am currently handling a case for an individual who was beaten up by the police, and we decided to accompany this client to the police department while they filed a complaint. I and some of my associates also accompanied this client to the police complaint interview. Everyone has the right to bring an attorney to one of these interviews.
There are several ways to file a police complaint; the exact mechanism will depend on the city. It is best for an individual to have the guidance of an attorney during this process.
When I was completing my master’s degree, I studied the LAPD’s complaint process. Specifically, I went to the LAPD and told them I wanted to learn how a person goes about filing a police complaint. They misunderstood my request, assuming that I wanted to actually file a request, and they did everything they could to try to talk me out of doing do. When I told them that I was there for my master’s thesis, they finally showed me the procedure for initiating a police complaint.
Having an attorney present during an interview regarding a police complaint can help ensure that things are done properly and that the person filing is treated fairly. Still, it is better to be able to complete a police complaint online, at one’s own leisure.
There is no way of knowing whether the people who accept the police complaints are fair in terms of truly considering whether the police officer exhibited misconduct. In fact, once a complaint is filed, the only response to the filer will be about whether or not the complaint is being sustained. Most police departments and cities will not explain what kind of discipline an officer will receive, nor whether a police officer’s actions were deemed wrong.
Statute Of Limitations
The statute of limitations for a tort or civil rights claim is two years. Other remedies can be exhausted first, such as the filing of the 910 claim within six months of the incident in order to put the city on notice of an impending lawsuit.
Filing a tort or civil rights claim within two years preserves the California civil rights statutes. If this time frame is missed, the plaintiff can only bring up the federal statute.
Standard of Proof
In any civil case, the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence should include photos of the injuries, medical records associated with the injuries, and witness testimony.
Cases against a city, especially those involving police misconduct, are some of the hardest to try simply because of the overwhelming number of people who believe that the police can do no wrong. This is not to say that these cases cannot be won, but it is a difficult task to pull off. Even clear-cut cases wherein there should be some form of compensation for the client can be lost, because police departments will hire large and powerful law firms that will not give an inch.
These cases involve high emotions, and ultimately it comes down to being able to convince a jury that a police officer has misconducted themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of jurists end up having a hard time accepting that police officers indeed commit crimes. Having good evidence can certainly help a plaintiff prevail in a civil rights trial.
The more outrageous a case, the greater the chance of being able to show the jury that an unlawful arrest was conducted, or excessive force was used. When potential clients come to me with outrageous cases, I can feel confident in knowing that there is a good chance of winning.
Cases that are milder in nature, for instance those involving a police officer who called someone a name, are not great cases for litigation. When potential clients come to me with these types of cases, I usually recommend that they file a police complaint. If that complaint is sustained, it bears a motion to obtain previous records of complaints against the officer in question, which can be brought in both a criminal and civil case.
The Process of a Civil Rights Lawsuit
An individual has six months to file a 910 claim against a city in response to an act of police misconduct. Within this claim, the individual will need to specify how they have been harmed by a particular individual from the city.
The city is given six months to respond; if they don’t, then the individual can file a lawsuit in state or federal court. If it is filed in federal court, it will likely move a lot faster than it would in state court. Due to the pandemic, the court process has slowed significantly; in state courts, trials are being set for more than a year out.
Once the police department and/or city receives the complaint, they have to answer to the lawsuit. Often, they will object to it and try to get it dismissed.
Written discovery usually occurs first, during which the plaintiff will be asked many questions about the incident. The defendant(s) may also search the records for any provable or unprovable facts.
During depositions there will be live testimony via a sonographer. The plaintiff will tell their story and answer questions posed to them, and the defendant’s legal team will determine whether the story is credible, and the details of their deposition provable. This is just part and parcel of developing evidence in a case.
Next, the case will be mediated. If mediation does not settle the case, then it would go to trial. A trial for this type of case could take anywhere from a few days to several months; it depends on the facts of the case.
For more information on Civil Rights Case Against Law Enforcement, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (909) 469-5111 today.
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