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Police Brutality Lawsuits and Section 1983

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Police brutality is both ugly and widespread, but there is some hope in knowing that Section 1983 of Civil Rights Act exists to protect victims from police attacks on their constitutional rights.

Congress enacted 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in order to protect the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the 14th Amendment. Under Section 1983, a victim can file a lawsuit in federal court for police brutality.

How exactly does this work?

Common Kinds of Police Brutality

Victims can be harmed in many ways by malicious police actions. Some of the more common types of police brutality include:

  • Excessive force. Officers are authorized to use reasonable amounts of force to restrain or capture a suspect. A court can find that under circumstances the force was unreasonable, which allows a victim to recover.
  • Racial slurs. There is never a reason under the law for an officer to shout racial epithets or slurs at a suspect. This verbal abuse can lead to a victim recovering under Section 1983.
  • Lethal force. When an officer unreasonably shoots to kill a suspect, that person's Fourth Amendment Rights are in peril, and the victim and her family can recover.

What Is Section 1983?

Section 1983 allows any person within the United States to sue a government official for depriving them of a constitutional right. In police brutality suits, the following violations are common:

  • Fourth Amendment. An officer touching your physical person (even with bullets) is a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment. Even a police taser may violate this right.
  • Fifth Amendment. Intentionally refusing to read a suspect their Miranda rights and interrogating her can violate this right.
  • 14th Amendment. Slurs and verbal abuse based on race can violate a suspect's right to equal protection.

Who Can Be Sued Under Section 1983?

Victims of police brutality can sue a variety of people and entities under Section 1983. Depending on the circumstances, this can include:

  • Law enforcement officers. It may seem obvious, but you can sue the officers responsible as well as their supervisors for any injuries and violations of your rights. These officers, however, may be able to claim qualified immunity.
  • City and county governments. Often this is the formal way to sue a police department, which cannot be sued directly. For example, victims often sue "The City of Los Angeles" instead of the "LAPD."
  • The mayor of a city. Another way to sue a city department is to sue the mayor of that city.

As you can see, police brutality lawsuits under Section 1983 can get complicated, and each case is different. You may want to consult an experienced civil rights attorney to help you with your particular claim.

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