Police abuse resulting in personal injury is a difficult case to pursue because in the civil context the police frequently benefit from judicial and jury sympathy. Unless the police action is especially outrageous and the injuries are catastrophic these types of cases are generally not viable.
In investigating such a claim it is critical to obtain all of the public records such as search warrant affidavits, coroner reports, medical records and incident reports to the extent they are available. In evaluating such cases it is important to consider whether or not the plaintiff in fact did do something that invited the police action. It is also important to consider the overall likeability of the plaintiff.
Jurors over the last many years have become somewhat insensitive to police abuse cases that do not involve significant injury. As such, if the claim does not involve some catastrophic injury as a general rule it is not economically feasible to pursue it.
Both judges and jurors are inclined to give police officers a certain amount of slack especially in situations where they’re being called upon to exercise split second judgment. These cases can be difficult simply because the sympathy frequently weighs in favor of the police. However when your case involves clear evidence of police falsification or police abuse then jurors are inclined to set aside their pro-police feelings and hold the officer liable.
The Washington Post on December 30, 2012 published an editorial dealing with an incident at the University of Maryland. On March 3, 2010 after Maryland’s basketball victory over Duke there were prolonged and rowdy street demonstrations in College Park, MD. The Prince George’s County Police Department was called to the scene. One of the students that the police encountered was a young man by the name of John McKenna who was simply skipping along the street when he encountered the police. He was unarmed and unthreatening. He was thrown to the ground and beaten repeatedly. As a result he needed eight metal staples to close a wound in this scalp. He subsequently sued the Prince George’s County Police and recovered a settlement of $2 million.
The Police initially lied about the circumstances of the event. The initial police explanation was that he had attacked and injured a mounted police officer and that he had been kicked by a horse. Thereafter a video of the event surfaced showing that this police account was untrue. For many months the police refused to disclose the identity of the officers involved. Eventually two of the officers were charged with aggravated assault. One of them was found not guilty. The other officer was found guilty in a jury trial presided over by Circuit Judge Beverly Woodard. Judge Woodard failed to disclose that she had been previously married to a Prince George’s County Police Officer who had been convicted in1998 of repeatedly shooting an unarmed victim in the back as he lay on the ground with a confiscated BB gun. She never disclosed that potential conflict. It was disclosed by a news reporter who testified at trial who confronted the Judge with that evidence. At that point the judge called a halt to the proceedings and then discussed the matter with counsel in chambers without a court reporter present. There is no record as to what the judge said but she made her own determination that she did not have a conflict of interest and the trial proceeded.
The Washington Post reports that during the trial the Judge repeatedly showed her bias against the prosecution and favoring the police through facial expressions and by turning her back on the prosecutor during the course of his closing statements to the jury. Those types of gestures probably did not go unnoticed by the jury.
The officer that was charged with second degree assault was convicted. Judge Woodard in imposing sentence imposed the most lenient sentence available consisting of 30 days of home detention, 18 months of unsupervised probation. The officer thereafter retired with full pension. During the sentencing the judge at some length vilified the unruly students. By implication she involved Mr. McKenna in that accusatory rant even though there was no evidence he was in anyway unruly.
The police department’s internal affairs office in the course of investigating the matter did not interview most of the students who were injured.
The Washington Post in the editorial recommends that the US Justice Department step in and prosecute the officers involved for civil rights violations.
Given the past history of Prince George’s County Police allowing the police to have this virtual immunity only encourages further police misconduct.
As to the Judge’s behavior, it probably would be appropriate that there was an independent judicial inquiry to determine if the Judge should be disciplined.
Cell phone technology has become so sophisticated that police surveillance now includes tracking people almost down to the square foot based upon cell phone usage
In a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, the Court held that the police did not violate any constitutional right by monitoring cell phone signals from a drug dealer and then using those signals to locate the individual. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling in January of 2012, stated that the police did violate the rights of a drug dealer in Washington, D.C. by placing a tracking device on his vehicle. The decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was a very narrow one dealing only with the issue of placing an object on a citizen’s vehicle. It left open the issue of what rules are to be followed by the police in terms of collecting location data simply based upon cell phones.
Cell phones, at this point, are so sophisticated that they are capable of emitting location data almost continuously as users either check traffic, search the web or look for a map or otherwise utilize the phone.
There are other decisions from other courts that have indicated that information that is available in the public domain such as an individual’s movements on public roadways which can be gathered by the police through phone data can, in fact, be used by the police for any purpose.
For more information about police abuse see the pages on Wikipedia.
If you feel you have become a victim of police misconduct in the Northern Virginia, Maryland or Washington, D.C. area please do not hesitate to contact Brien Roche Law.
. For more information on police abuse see the pages on Wikipedia.