Law Enforcement Abuse of Force

Police Brutality and Excessive Force: Your Rights and Remedies Under the Law

Police officers hold a position of power and trust that must be taken deadly seriously. Lives depend on their actions every day. No matter who we are or how we feel about them, we might at any moment find ourselves in need of their help or counting on them to treat us with fairness and respect.

Many officers answer this calling out of a desire to protect people and do their best to honor their responsibilities and make the best choices they can every day in a dangerous and unpredictable workplace. There are others, however, who are attracted to police work for exactly the reasons they’re unqualified to do it — a desire to wield unchecked power over others, to wage war on people they don’t like, or to overrule the law with their own opinions and impulses.

It’s hard to put a number to the deaths or serious injuries caused by these unethical officers, because until January of 2019, there was no national system in place for gathering statistics about police use of force.  The Wetherington Law Firm is proud to have been part of the push that led to the FBI starting a comprehensive data tracking program, just as we’re proud to fight for individuals who have been victimized at the hands of police.  You can learn more about the tracking program and what it means for Georgia here:

 

Data will help stop abuses in the future.  However, even without comprehensive data, we already know that abuses of police authority happen too frequently right now.  After an encounter with violent or immoral officers, victims and their families often have questions about their legal options. We’ve answered some of the most common questions below.

 

What Kind of Force Are Police Allowed to Use in Georgia?

The use of force is generally authorized by a combination of local and national standards for policing.  For example, in Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Department authorizes its officers to use “force which is reasonable and necessary to affect an arrest, prevent an escape, necessarily restrict the movement of a prisoner, defend himself/herself or another from physical assault, or to accomplish other lawful objectives.”

In other words, if a suspect tries to run or fight, the officer is authorized to use (almost) any force necessary to complete the arrest and any associated duties —but no more. Using a Taser to subdue a belligerent, physically imposing adult might be acceptable depending on the situation; using one on a child who could be subdued with a firm grip on the arm would be excessive. Likewise, using a gun on that belligerent adult when a Taser would do just as well would also be excessive.

If a suspect cooperates completely based on verbal commands, there’s no reason for force to be used at all, but that doesn’t mean an officer isn’t allowed to touch you. Frisking and physically guiding a suspect into a police car doesn’t count as excessive force in even the most amicable arrest.

 

What Does It Take to Qualify as Abuse of Force?

Police officers are expressly prohibited to use unnecessary or unreasonable against any person or property.  However, because police officers are regularly called upon to make difficult, split-second decisions based on limited information, courts typically grant them significant leeway in the subjective concept of “reasonably necessary” force. When force is necessary, it takes a fairly extreme overreaction on the officer’s part to qualify as an abuse of force.

That said, there are situations where force is clearly unnecessary. If a suspect has not been given the chance to respond to verbal cues, the officer has no reason to assume that force will be the only solution. Likewise, if a suspect is surrendering, or is already restrained, a police officer has no business inflicting pain for the sake of it. No matter how serious or probable a suspect’s crimes, punishment is the court’s domain, not the arresting officer’s.

There’s also an exception to the rule authorizing all necessary force during an arrest. Officers may not use deadly force, even if it’s the only way to prevent an escape, unless they have reasonable grounds to believe the suspect is a serious danger to the lives or safety of others.

For example, if a mass shooter has failed to respond to verbal commands and warnings, and is out of range of non-lethal alternatives, an officer would be justified in shooting to kill, even if the suspect is fleeing. The officer would not be justified, however, in shooting a fleeing shoplifter, or shooting someone who matches a vague description of a mass shooter.

 

What If the Abuse of Force Is Racially Motivated?

Police violence is often linked with bigotry, which should never be acceptable from anyone, least of all those trusted with protecting the public. However, the motivation behind excessive force can be very difficult to prove and is only tenuously relevant from a legal perspective.

The term “abuse of force” applies only to physical actions, not to thoughts or words, and the central question in this kind of case is whether the officer used greater force than a reasonable person would in the same situation, not why.

If an officer subjected you to racial or sexual slurs in addition to excessive force, it may strengthen your case by clarifying to a jury that the officer’s actions were hateful and not an innocent lapse of judgment, but it’s important to remember that the slurs by themselves do not fall under the category of force.

 

Can My Arrest Be Overturned If Excessive Force Was Used?

No, excessive force is not grounds for overturning an arrest that was otherwise legitimate. However, the flip side of this is that the legitimacy of an arrest doesn’t excuse the use of excessive force either.

Other than resisting arrest or posing a credible threat to others, your actions don’t affect your arresting officer’s permissible actions, and vice-versa. The question of whether each of you acted illegally or not will need to be answered independently. They don’t cancel each other out.

 

What Damages are Recoverable After Being A Victim of Excessive Force?

The main public policy purpose for tort law is compensation. Compensatory damages are money damages awarded to compensate the plaintiff and make the plaintiff whole. The system is not perfect. Life, limb, and freedom from pain cannot be restored. However, compensatory damages are a means of attempting to place the plaintiff in the same relative position that he or she was in before the loss by way of monetary compensation.

When you’re the victim of an excessive force incident, you may face economic and non-economic damages. This includes medical expenses (hospital bills, medications, physical therapy, etc.), property damage, pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, lost income and disability.  In rare instances, you may also be entitled to punitive damages.

 

You Can Recover “General” Damages

General damages are “non-economic” losses, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, or mental anguish, all of which have no specific, itemized value.  The monetary value of general damage is determined by the jury, and jury verdicts are not consistent.  A broken ankle in one courtroom could be worth $10,000 in pain and suffering.  In another courtroom, it could be worth $100,000.  Matt Wetherington tried a case in Fulton County that resulted in a $2.8 million verdict for a broken ankle.  You can read about that case here.  However, it is important to know that jury verdicts and settlements vary widely, even for the exact same injury.  The variance is due to the individual plaintiff, the jurors at the trial, and the effectiveness of the injured person’s attorney.

If you eventually go before a jury in a Georgia court, here are the instructions that will be read to the jury regarding damages that can be recovered:

Tort Damages; Pain and Suffering; Generally; Mental; Future

Pain and suffering is a legal item of damages. The measure is the enlightened conscience of fair and impartial jurors. Questions of whether, how much, and how long the plaintiff has suffered or will suffer are for you to decide.

Pain and suffering includes mental suffering, but mental suffering is not a legal item of damage unless there is physical suffering also.

In evaluating the plaintiff’s pain and suffering, you may consider the following factors, if proven: interference with normal living; interference with enjoyment of life; loss of capacity to labor and earn money; impairment of bodily health and vigor; fear of extent of injury; shock of impact; actual pain and suffering, past and future; mental anguish, past and future; and the extent to which the plaintiff must limit activities.

Tort Damages; Pain and Suffering; Future

If you find that the plaintiff’s pain and suffering will continue into the future, you should award damages for such future pain and suffering as you believe the plaintiff will endure. In making such award, your standard should be your enlightened conscience as impartial jurors. You would be entitled to take into consideration the fact that the plaintiff is receiving a present cash award for damages not yet suffered.

Tort Damages; Pain and Suffering; Preexisting Injury; Aggravation

No plaintiff may recover for injuries or disabilities that are not connected with the act or omissions of the defendant in this case. There can be no recovery for a particular plaintiff for any injury or disability that was not proximately caused by the incident in question.

If you should find that, at the time of the incident, the plaintiff had any physical condition, ailment, or disease that was becoming apparent or was dormant, and if you should find that the plaintiff received an injury as a result of the negligence of the defendant and that the injury resulted in any aggravation of a condition already pending, then the plaintiff could recover damages for aggravation of the preexisting condition.

You Can Recover “Special” Damages

Special damages are “economic” losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or the cost of hiring household help, all of which do have a specific itemized value and can be more easily determined or calculated on a simple mathematical basis – once you have obtained the necessary records to prove that the expenses were incurred.  It is important to note that only medical expenses “proximately caused” by the excessive force can be recovered.  If you would like to learn more about how proximate cause is determined, click here.  For simplicity sake, you should know that proximate cause is often highly contested.

You May be Able to Recover Punitive Damages

In tort actions, there may be aggravating circumstances that may warrant the awarding or imposing of additional damages called punitive damages.  Punitive damages, when authorized, are imposed not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant.  To recover punitive damages, the victim must prove that the officer’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care that would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.

Why Should I Hire an Excessive Police Force Lawyer in Atlanta?

Although we are based out of Atlanta, we handle significant excessive force cases throughout the United States.  Excessive force cases involving large medical bills or potentially serious injuries always need the guidance of an attorney.  In every sense imaginable, the deck is stacked against victims of excessive force.  An experienced excessive force attorney can make a huge difference.  If you are undecided about hiring an attorney, call us for a free consultation.  We will walk you through our process, explain what we can do and how we are going to do it.

The Wetherington Law Firm has the experience and financial resources needed to prove your case and obtain full compensation for your injuries.  Every personal injury client receives a dedicated team of lawyers and supporting staff who will do the heavy lifting so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries.  Our clients trust us to do everything possible to obtain full value for their injuries.  Our firm works exclusively on contingency.  That means that you do not pay us a single penny unless and until we obtain a recovery for you.  When you hire us, you can expect us to take the following steps immediately:

  • Preserve all evidence, including the footage of your incident;
  • Identify and interview all witnesses to your incident;
  • Identify all possible defendants;
  • Identify all insurance policies;
  • Develop the evidence necessary to determine the correct standard of care for each defendant;
  • Fully document your current medical condition;
  • Negotiating your medical bills;
  • Work with your physicians to understand your future medical needs and how much they will cost; and
  • Keep you informed every step of the way.

How to Hire the Best Excessive Force Injury Lawyers in Atlanta

Call or email us today for a free consultation.  If we accept your case, it will be on contingency.  That means that you do not pay anything up front and only pay us if we win your case.

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You Can Make a Lasting Difference in the Lives of Others by Hiring the Wetherington Law Firm

Obtaining full and complete compensation for our clients is the most important service we provide to our clients.  Protecting the general public and making sure that other people are protected is part of obtaining justice.  We frequently work with law enforcement, local government officials, state legislators, and federal agencies to understand the root cause of dangerous conditions.  This often leads to uncovering dangerous trends or patterns of behavior that must be changed.  Many of our clients have chosen not to be defined by their injuries, and instead choose to serve as a beacon of hope to others.  Whether through legislation, refusing to settle unless changes or made, or simply sharing their story, our client’s efforts have helped save MILLIONS of people from serious injury or death.  If you can help prevent even one other person from being hurt or injured by the same problem, it will help make every day of your recovery a little bit better.  We care about you as a person and will work with you however you want to help make the world a safer and better place.  Call us now to get started.

 

 

Have you Been a Victim of Police Brutality?

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