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Police Use of Force

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses The logic of the Contingent Fee System In Injury Claims

Brien Roche

Limiting Police Use of Force

With the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020, many cities and states began to review police use of force measures.  

In the District of Columbia, the City Council passed certain measures shortly after that death.  Those measures were then revised due to objections by the Mayor and Police Department.

What did finally pass through the City Council and was signed by the Mayor were requirements as far as the release of body camera footage.  This is probably a good piece of legislation. It requires the police to release this footage within a certain period of time where there is the use of deadly force.  

The measures also barred the use of rubber bullets or chemical irritants on peaceful protesters.  The measure also restricted the power of the police unions.  The unions will not be allowed to negotiate disciplinary measures during collective bargaining.  What that appears to do is to bar the unions from negotiating specific cases while they are engaged in collective bargaining.Contact us for help.

Police Use of Force Rules

As a former police officer, it’s my view that the current controversy over police use of force can be easily resolved.  When I was a police officer with the D.C. Police Department, also known as the Metropolitan Police Department, there was a general bar against the use of deadly force against an unarmed person.  Everybody on the force knew that if you shot an unarmed suspect you were probably going to lose your job.  There were exceptions to that of course. 

If the suspect had the officer in a situation where it was life or death, then even though the suspect was unarmed, the officer could kill him.  Likewise if someone had physically demonstrated the ability to kill the officer or inflict serious bodily harm on the officer through a punch, then that too may justify the use of deadly force.  For instance if Mike Tyson raised his fist at a police officer and said, “I’m going to kill you”, the officer could probably shoot him.  The officer doesn’t have to wait for Mike Tyson to deliver his first blow.  That first blow could well be deadly. 

The general rule however was that the officer was expected to be able to physically restrain an unarmed suspect.  Physical restraint typically meant being able to handcuff the suspect.  Part and parcel of handcuffing a suspect may frequently be getting that suspect on the ground so that he can be handcuffed against his will.  If the officer could not do that, then it was generally considered that he did not belong on the police force.  Contact us for help.

Chokeholds

Another general bar was the use of choke holds.  The reason that choke holds were barred when I was a police officer was because most of the new officers coming on the force were coming directly from the military.  In the military we learned the use of choke holds, not for the purpose of restraining someone but for the purpose of killing someone. 

Choke holds can come in a number of different forms.  One of them is the so-called “snap, crackle and pop” which was used in the military.  That is a method by which you literally try to grab the person’s head at the jaw level and then also at the back of the head and quickly snap the head.  That produces a fracture in the vertebrae and results either in death or paralysis. 

Another form of choke hold was for a right-handed officer to place the interior portion of the wrist against the person’s throat, interlocking that hand with the left hand and exerting pressure backward while at the same time driving your right shoulder into the back of the person’s head.  That generally results in a broken neck.  Another form of choke hold was simply to put the person’s neck in a vice with the vice consisting of the forearm and the bicep on either side of the neck, with the goal being to cut off the flow of blood to the brain.  That frequently results in momentary unconsciousness.  

All of those forms of restraint are either fatal or, at the very least, potentially dangerous.  That is why typically choke holds have been barred in terms of police use of force measures.

All of that seems fairly simple.  Why police departments have not adopted those measures is a bit of a mystery to me. 

Tough Cases

Police use of force cases are tough cases. The police have the benefit of judicial and jury sympathy.  In addition they may have complete or limited immunity. Unless the police action is outrageous and the injuries serious these cases are not viable.

Police Use of Force Cases Require Full Investigation

In investigating such a claim you must obtain all of the public records. These include warrant affidavits, coroner reports, medical records and incident reports. These may not be publicly available. Also you must look at whether the plaintiff did something that invited the police action. In addition it is important to consider the overall likeability of the plaintiff.

Police Use of Force Cases are Difficult to Win

Jurors over the last many years have become somewhat insensitive to police abuse cases that do not involve serious injury. Therefore if the claim does not involve some serious injury it is not economically feasible to pursue.Contact us for help.

Both judges and jurors are inclined to give police officers a certain amount of slack. This is so in cases where they’re being called upon to make split second judgments. These cases are tough. The sympathy may weigh in favor of the police.  However if your case involves clear evidence of police lying or police abuse then jurors are inclined to set aside their pro-police feelings and hold the officer liable.

Police Use of Force In Prince George County,Maryland

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 were called in. One of the students that the police encountered was a young man by the name of John McKenna. He was skipping along the street when he encountered the police.  McKenna 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 sued the Prince George’s County Police and recovered a settlement of $2 million.

Police Lies

The Police lied. The initial explanation was that McKenna had attacked and injured a mounted police officer. They claimed the horse kicked him.  However a video of the event showed this was false.   For many months the police refused to disclose the identity of the officers involved.  Finally two officers were charged with aggravated assault.  One of them was found not guilty.

Charges Against Officer

The other officer was found guilty in a jury trial presided over by Circuit Judge Beverly Woodard.  She failed to disclose that she had been previously married to a Prince George’s County police officer. This officer had been convicted in 1998 of shooting an unarmed victim. The victim was on his back on the ground and the officer shot him with a confiscated BB gun.  She never disclosed that.

It was disclosed by a news reporter who testified at trial. The reporter confronted the Judge with that evidence.  The judge called a halt to the proceedings and then discussed the matter with counsel in chambers. There was no court reporter present.  There is no record as to what the judge said. However she decided she did not have a conflict and the trial proceeded. Contact us for help.

Judge’s Bias

The Washington Post reports that the Judge repeatedly showed her bias against the prosecution. She did this through facial expressions. She turned her back on the prosecutor during the closing statements.  Those gestures did not go unnoticed by the jury.

The officer that was charged with second degree assault was convicted.  Judge Woodard imposed the most lenient sentence available. It consisted of 30 days of home detention and 18 months of unsupervised probation.  The officer thereafter retired with full pension.  During the sentencing the judge vilified the unruly students.  By implication she involved Mr. McKenna in her rant. There was no evidence he was 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 an editorial recommended that the US Justice Department step in and prosecute the officers involved for civil rights violations.

Police Cell Phone Surveillance

Cell phone technology has become so sophisticated that police surveillance now includes tracking  people almost down to the square foot. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that the police did not violate any constitutional right by monitoring cell signals from a drug dealer. The police used those signals to locate the person.  However the U.S. Supreme Court, in January 2012, stated that the police did violate the rights of a drug dealer by placing a tracking device on his car.  The decision was a narrow one. It dealt only with the issue of placing an object on a citizen’s vehicle.  In other words it left open the issue of what rules are to be followed in collecting location data from cell phones.

Cell phones are so sophisticated that they are capable of emitting location data continuously. This applies as users either check traffic, search the web or look for a map or otherwise utilize the phone.

Also there are decisions from other courts that state that info that is available in the public domain which can be gathered by the police through phone data can be used by the police for any purpose.

For more info about police abuse see the pages on Wikipedia.

For Police Use of Force Cases Contact an Injury Attorney

If you feel you have become a victim of police misconduct in the Northern Virginia, Maryland or Washington, D.C. area contact Brien Roche.

Also see police for a review of Virginia case law dealing with the police. In addition see the other pages on this site dealing with intentional torts.

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Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Police Use of Force

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses The logic of the Contingent Fee System In Injury Claims

Brien Roche

Limiting Police Use of Force

With the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020, many cities and states began to review police use of force measures.  

In the District of Columbia, the City Council passed certain measures shortly after that death.  Those measures were then revised due to objections by the Mayor and Police Department.

What did finally pass through the City Council and was signed by the Mayor were requirements as far as the release of body camera footage.  This is probably a good piece of legislation. It requires the police to release this footage within a certain period of time where there is the use of deadly force.  

The measures also barred the use of rubber bullets or chemical irritants on peaceful protesters.  The measure also restricted the power of the police unions.  The unions will not be allowed to negotiate disciplinary measures during collective bargaining.  What that appears to do is to bar the unions from negotiating specific cases while they are engaged in collective bargaining.Contact us for help.

Police Use of Force Rules

As a former police officer, it’s my view that the current controversy over police use of force can be easily resolved.  When I was a police officer with the D.C. Police Department, also known as the Metropolitan Police Department, there was a general bar against the use of deadly force against an unarmed person.  Everybody on the force knew that if you shot an unarmed suspect you were probably going to lose your job.  There were exceptions to that of course. 

If the suspect had the officer in a situation where it was life or death, then even though the suspect was unarmed, the officer could kill him.  Likewise if someone had physically demonstrated the ability to kill the officer or inflict serious bodily harm on the officer through a punch, then that too may justify the use of deadly force.  For instance if Mike Tyson raised his fist at a police officer and said, “I’m going to kill you”, the officer could probably shoot him.  The officer doesn’t have to wait for Mike Tyson to deliver his first blow.  That first blow could well be deadly. 

The general rule however was that the officer was expected to be able to physically restrain an unarmed suspect.  Physical restraint typically meant being able to handcuff the suspect.  Part and parcel of handcuffing a suspect may frequently be getting that suspect on the ground so that he can be handcuffed against his will.  If the officer could not do that, then it was generally considered that he did not belong on the police force.  Contact us for help.

Chokeholds

Another general bar was the use of choke holds.  The reason that choke holds were barred when I was a police officer was because most of the new officers coming on the force were coming directly from the military.  In the military we learned the use of choke holds, not for the purpose of restraining someone but for the purpose of killing someone. 

Choke holds can come in a number of different forms.  One of them is the so-called “snap, crackle and pop” which was used in the military.  That is a method by which you literally try to grab the person’s head at the jaw level and then also at the back of the head and quickly snap the head.  That produces a fracture in the vertebrae and results either in death or paralysis. 

Another form of choke hold was for a right-handed officer to place the interior portion of the wrist against the person’s throat, interlocking that hand with the left hand and exerting pressure backward while at the same time driving your right shoulder into the back of the person’s head.  That generally results in a broken neck.  Another form of choke hold was simply to put the person’s neck in a vice with the vice consisting of the forearm and the bicep on either side of the neck, with the goal being to cut off the flow of blood to the brain.  That frequently results in momentary unconsciousness.  

All of those forms of restraint are either fatal or, at the very least, potentially dangerous.  That is why typically choke holds have been barred in terms of police use of force measures.

All of that seems fairly simple.  Why police departments have not adopted those measures is a bit of a mystery to me. 

Tough Cases

Police use of force cases are tough cases. The police have the benefit of judicial and jury sympathy.  In addition they may have complete or limited immunity. Unless the police action is outrageous and the injuries serious these cases are not viable.

Police Use of Force Cases Require Full Investigation

In investigating such a claim you must obtain all of the public records. These include warrant affidavits, coroner reports, medical records and incident reports. These may not be publicly available. Also you must look at whether the plaintiff did something that invited the police action. In addition it is important to consider the overall likeability of the plaintiff.

Police Use of Force Cases are Difficult to Win

Jurors over the last many years have become somewhat insensitive to police abuse cases that do not involve serious injury. Therefore if the claim does not involve some serious injury it is not economically feasible to pursue.Contact us for help.

Both judges and jurors are inclined to give police officers a certain amount of slack. This is so in cases where they’re being called upon to make split second judgments. These cases are tough. The sympathy may weigh in favor of the police.  However if your case involves clear evidence of police lying or police abuse then jurors are inclined to set aside their pro-police feelings and hold the officer liable.

Police Use of Force In Prince George County,Maryland

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 were called in. One of the students that the police encountered was a young man by the name of John McKenna. He was skipping along the street when he encountered the police.  McKenna 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 sued the Prince George’s County Police and recovered a settlement of $2 million.

Police Lies

The Police lied. The initial explanation was that McKenna had attacked and injured a mounted police officer. They claimed the horse kicked him.  However a video of the event showed this was false.   For many months the police refused to disclose the identity of the officers involved.  Finally two officers were charged with aggravated assault.  One of them was found not guilty.

Charges Against Officer

The other officer was found guilty in a jury trial presided over by Circuit Judge Beverly Woodard.  She failed to disclose that she had been previously married to a Prince George’s County police officer. This officer had been convicted in 1998 of shooting an unarmed victim. The victim was on his back on the ground and the officer shot him with a confiscated BB gun.  She never disclosed that.

It was disclosed by a news reporter who testified at trial. The reporter confronted the Judge with that evidence.  The judge called a halt to the proceedings and then discussed the matter with counsel in chambers. There was no court reporter present.  There is no record as to what the judge said. However she decided she did not have a conflict and the trial proceeded. Contact us for help.

Judge’s Bias

The Washington Post reports that the Judge repeatedly showed her bias against the prosecution. She did this through facial expressions. She turned her back on the prosecutor during the closing statements.  Those gestures did not go unnoticed by the jury.

The officer that was charged with second degree assault was convicted.  Judge Woodard imposed the most lenient sentence available. It consisted of 30 days of home detention and 18 months of unsupervised probation.  The officer thereafter retired with full pension.  During the sentencing the judge vilified the unruly students.  By implication she involved Mr. McKenna in her rant. There was no evidence he was 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 an editorial recommended that the US Justice Department step in and prosecute the officers involved for civil rights violations.

Police Cell Phone Surveillance

Cell phone technology has become so sophisticated that police surveillance now includes tracking  people almost down to the square foot. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit held that the police did not violate any constitutional right by monitoring cell signals from a drug dealer. The police used those signals to locate the person.  However the U.S. Supreme Court, in January 2012, stated that the police did violate the rights of a drug dealer by placing a tracking device on his car.  The decision was a narrow one. It dealt only with the issue of placing an object on a citizen’s vehicle.  In other words it left open the issue of what rules are to be followed in collecting location data from cell phones.

Cell phones are so sophisticated that they are capable of emitting location data continuously. This applies as users either check traffic, search the web or look for a map or otherwise utilize the phone.

Also there are decisions from other courts that state that info that is available in the public domain which can be gathered by the police through phone data can be used by the police for any purpose.

For more info about police abuse see the pages on Wikipedia.

For Police Use of Force Cases Contact an Injury Attorney

If you feel you have become a victim of police misconduct in the Northern Virginia, Maryland or Washington, D.C. area contact Brien Roche.

Also see police for a review of Virginia case law dealing with the police. In addition see the other pages on this site dealing with intentional torts.

Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Contact Us For A Free Consultation