Even with police brutality at the forefront of the national discussion, the use of excessive force by American police continues to make headlines. In the next month after the brutal death of George Floyd, three recordings surfaced of black men saying “I can’t breathe” while in police custody — then dying.
These high-profile, tragic cases aren’t the only instances of the use of excessive force. Police brutality cases cover bullying, physical and verbal harassment, physical and mental injuries, property damage and death. And the amount that they annually rate in legal settlements can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for the worst big city offenders, like the NYPD.
Although the dollar amount of payouts is deemed newsworthy, the average claim filed against a police department hardly ever is. The only way to get anything resembling justice for the tens of thousands of people on the receiving end of police brutality is to partner with experienced civil rights lawyers like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt — and demand it.
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What Constitutes Police Brutality?
Although the cases that make the news are typically the most horrendous and inexcusable, most instances of police brutality are of the common variety of injustice that we’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to. Out of 5,848 police brutality settlements awarded against the NYPD in 2019, 61 percent were for false arrests and imprisonments, excessive force or assault, or failure to provide police protection.
Police officers are legally allowed to use force to defuse a situation, but once it is under control the use of force is strictly forbidden. Unfortunately, too many members of the police force allow their emotions to control them, and seek to intimidate or get revenge on those they’ve sworn to protect. In situations where someone under arrest or investigation complies with police orders, there is no excuse for any type of physical contact.
Police brutality can also occur through:
- Intimidation and the use of weapons
- Physical abuse of a suspect in custody
- Sexual abuse during searches
- Unlawful destruction of property
- Killing pets to intimidate a suspect
How Do Police Brutality Cases Happen?
While some officers are repeat offenders in the use of excessive force, many are so-called “good cops” too used to treating those they serve as adversaries. This feeling of hypervigilance translates to unwarranted violence with frightening regularity, even when people comply with police instructions, like in the famous police shootings of Amadou Diallo and Philando Castile.
Police brutality occurs in the following situations at higher than average rates:
- Traffic stops that get out of control
- Arrests or detentions
- After a pursuit
- When a suspect is racially profiled
- In jails, prisons or detention centers
How Race Shows Up in Police Brutality Cases
According to CDC data, law enforcement sent 85,075 people to the emergency department (ED) for nonfatal injuries in 2018. Here racial disparities are twice what they are in police shootings — despite white people making up about 60 percent of the U.S. population and black people making up 13 percent, the Journal of Urban Health found that black people are 4.9 times likelier to visit the ED for law enforcement-caused injuries.
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When to Consult with an Experienced Civil Rights Attorney
When police officers cross the line, they must be held to account — not only for any injuries and harm you or a loved one have suffered, but also for future victims of police brutality and excessive force. And when activists talk about “defunding the police,” a good place to start is the enormous amounts that police departments pay to their victims — by helping to ensure that these numerous incidents are counted and compensated in sums that legislators can’t just ignore.
Our team of lawyers includes civil rights star S. Lee Merritt, Esq., who runs a national practice focusing on victims of police brutality and hate crimes. Throughout his career, he has championed police reform and community empowerment. His office has led the way to reform in Texas, a state notorious for its failure to prosecute police officers, successfully advocating for the first murder indictments of officers in the state in over 40 years.
If you are a victim of a serious injury due to police brutality or the family member of a wrongful death victim, contact our team of lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt today by filling out our form or calling us directly at 1-866-357-8614.