Section 1983 Claims for Police Excessive Use of Force Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Excessive Force Liability

The International Association for the Chiefs of Police (IACP) has maintained an updated model policy on the use of force for over two decades (Hough & Tatum, 2012). A number of 'use of force' policies implemented by policing agencies can be found online, but the basic tenets are the following: (1) use only the minimum amount of force necessary to bring a situation under control, (2) deadly force should only be used to prevent death or serious injury to the officer or bystanders (Tennessee v. Garner, 1985), and (3) the determination of an imminent threat of death or serious injury should be based on objective and reasonable evidence (IACP, 2006; Graham v. Conner, 1989). Officers should also warn the intended target that deadly force will be used if they failed to comply when possible (Tennessee v. Garner, 1985).

Based on these guidelines, Officer Jones was not justified in discharging his weapon because there was no imminent threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others. The shooting victim did refuse to keep his hands where the officer could see them, which would have justified drawing and pointing the firearm at the victim. The IACP (2006) policy would also require the officer to warn the victim of the imminent use of deadly force if they did not comply. If the shooting victim had pulled a weapon from his pocket and began to point it at the officer, the officer would have been prepared and justified to use lethal force (Hayek v. City of St. Paul, 2007). Unfortunately, Officer Jones made the decision not to warn the shooting victim or wait until there was objective and reasonable evidence of an imminent threat of death or serious injury. Given the evidence presented in the case study, Officer Jones is probably guilty of excessive force and therefore legally liable for the injuries the shooting victim suffered.

If Officer Jones had been a Dallas police officer he would have been brought before a grand jury to determine whether his actions amounted to excessive use of force (Owmby, 2008). If the grand jury believed there was sufficient evidence to support this claim Officer Jones would have likely been indicted for aggravated assault (Baldwin, 2014). Under Title 5, Chapter 22, § 22.02 (a) (1) (2), (b) (2) (A) of the Texas Penal Code (2009), Officer Jones would be charged with a first degree felony. Given the lack of witnesses, the case would be difficult to try if the testimony of the officer and shooting victim differed.

If the shooting victim was not satisfied with the outcome of the criminal proceedings against Officer Jones he could attempt to find justice by suing the officer for damages in state or federal court under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Vaughn & Coomes, 1995). Section 1983 provides a legal remedy for violations of Constitutional protections committed by state actors. The shooting victim in this case could claim that the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure was violated when he was shot for not keeping his hands visible (Tennessee v. Garner, 1985). To successfully bring suit under this statute the plaintiff must show that the defendant was acting under color of law (Williams v. United States, 1951). Officer Jones was on duty and in police uniform when the shooting occurred, so it is reasonable to assume that the judge would agree that the officer was acting under color of law. In addition, Officer Jones clearly identified himself as a police officer to the shooting victim before the shooting occurred and was acting in a manner that would make any reasonable person believe that the officer had assumed control of the immediate environment. Given these details, the shooting victim would likely have legal standing to bring a civil action against the officer under Section 1983.

The police department where Officer Jones was employed and the responsible municipality could also be sued under Section 1983 (Loevy, 2004-05; Monell vs. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 1978). For example, if the police department had an official or unofficial policy authorizing patrol officers to gun down any citizen for not complying with an officer's order to keep their hands in view then an excessive force suit could be filed against the police department. Such a policy would probably be considered unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment right of citizens "… to be secure in their persons & #8230;" (National Archives, n.d.). If the municipal government supported this policy, either officially or unofficially, then it could also be sued for civil damages under Monell. A lack of proper training in the use of force could also be the basis for a civil claim against the police agency or municipality, depending on the causes of inadequate training (Estate of Davis v. City of Richland Hills, 2005). For example, if Officer Jones' supervisor was aware that Jones was inadequately trained or had a history of excessive force incidents this could form the basis of a civil suit on behalf of the shooting victim. The municipality could be sued successfully if it could be shown that insufficient funding was provided for 'use of lethal force' training.

There were a number of other crimes committed that night, based on the details provided in the case study. After the detectives discovered that the bleeding and injured woman was actually a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband and not some stranger, the woman could be charged with providing false information to an officer of the law. Under Texas Penal Code §37.08 (2011) the woman would be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor if she knowingly made a false statement to a peace officer or law enforcement employee. The woman was also alleged to have made false statements to Officer Jones to prevent her husband from going to jail. In Texas she could be charged with hindering apprehension (Tex. Penal Code § 38.05, 2007). If her husband did not have a history of domestic violence convictions the penalty would be a Class A misdemeanor, otherwise she could be charged with a third degree felony. According to the investigators, the husband of the injured and bleeding woman would be guilty of assault in the State of Texas (Tex. Penal Code, §22.01, 2009). Whether the husband would be charged with a misdemeanor or felony would depend on whether there have been previous convictions for domestic violence. Given the woman's reaction, this seems likely.

Officer Jones would not be liable for any harm that may have resulted from leaving the injured and bleeding woman behind to pursue a suspect. While Officer Jones had a duty to call emergency medical services on the woman's behalf after taking charge of the scene, he was not required to remain by her side until help arrived (Torres v. City of Chicago, 2004). Once emergency services had been called the only duty remaining was not to harm the woman.

The shooting victim's failure to heed the police officer's orders to halt and keep his hands visible would violate the Code of Criminal Procedure in the State of Texas (1967). When Officer Jones spotted the shooting victim there was some resemblance to the description given by the woman; therefore, the shooting victim was a felony suspect. Whether Officer Jones wanted to just talk to the shooting victim or make an arrest is unclear, but the officer's reaction to the victim's noncompliance suggests the latter. Without knowing more it seems safe to assume that Officer Jones was attempting to arrest the shooting victim under suspicion of having committed the crimes of aggravated assault (Tex. Penal Code § 22.02, 2009) and aggravated robbery (Tex. Penal Code § 29.03, 1994).

Immediately after the shooting incident Officer Jones discovered a cell phone and bag…

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