Police officers are charged with enforcing the law, keeping the peace, and preventing and detecting crime. They are also obligated to use their power responsibly. One way they are held to that standard is through the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of excessive use of force. However, just because that's the law doesn't mean every police officer respects the rights of the individuals they are questioning, arresting, and holding in custody.
If you or a loved one is injured or killed by a police officer, and you believe it was an excessive use of force, you need to contact a Seattle civil rights attorney as soon as possible. Here, we explain your rights and offer advice on what else to do to protect yourself after a law enforcement officer has overstepped and broken the law.
Examples of Excessive Use of Force During an Arrest
Excessive force refers to the use of more physical or lethal force than is reasonably necessary to subdue a suspect, maintain control, or effect an arrest. Excessive force can encompass a range of actions, from unnecessary physical aggression to the use of weapons and restraint techniques that result in serious injury or even death. Some circumstances that may lead to claims of excessive force include:
- Use of lethal force. If a suspect is posing an immediate threat to the lives of officers or others, the use of lethal force might be justified. However, if the level of threat doesn't warrant such extreme measures, it can be considered excessive. For instance, if a suspect is unarmed and attempting to flee, using lethal force could be seen as disproportionate.
- Continued use of force after subduing. Once a suspect has been successfully subdued, applying additional force can be considered excessive. For example, if a suspect is handcuffed and compliant, but officers continue to use physical force, this could be seen as unnecessary and abusive.
- Failure to de-escalate. Law enforcement officers are trained to de-escalate situations whenever possible. If they resort to force without attempting to communicate, negotiate, or use less invasive methods, their actions might be considered excessive.
- Improper use of restraints. If officers use restraints in a way that causes unnecessary pain, restricts breathing, or leads to injury, it can be deemed excessive. For instance, the improper use of chokeholds or other forms of physical restraint that result in harm can be considered excessive force.
Force does not have to cause death to be considered excessive, but unfortunately, deaths in police custody do occur. If you were seriously injured by an officer, or a loved one died in custody, we urge you to call a lawyer as soon as possible. We also encourage you to take action.
What to Do If You Suspect Excessive Use of Force
Experiencing a situation where you suspect excessive force by the police and either you or a loved one has been injured or killed can be overwhelming. You might feel frozen in shock and unsure of what to do first. As civil rights attorneys in Seattle, we suggest you do as many of the following as you are able to do:
- Prioritize safety and medical attention. If you or someone you know has been injured, seek medical attention immediately. Your health and safety should be the top priority.
- Document the incident. As soon as you can, document the details of the incident. Write down everything you remember, including the location, date, time, officers involved (if known), and a detailed account of what transpired.
- Collect evidence. Gather any evidence available, such as photos, videos, or audio recordings of the incident. This may include footage from security cameras, smartphones, or bystanders.
- Identify witnesses. Note down the names and contact information of any witnesses who were present during the incident. Their accounts can provide additional perspectives on what happened.
- Contact an attorney. The sooner you contact our office, the better. We can provide legal advice and guide you through the process of seeking justice.
- File a formal complaint. File a formal complaint with the appropriate agency or department responsible for handling complaints against law enforcement officers detailing the excessive force incident. Make sure to keep a copy for your records.
- Preserve evidence. Ensure that all evidence you've collected is preserved. This includes photos, videos, documents, and any other relevant materials.
- Stay informed. Keep yourself informed about the progress of the investigation into the incident. Your attorney can help you understand the legal processes and your rights.
- Engage with media and advocacy groups. If your attorney advises it, consider sharing your story with the media and connecting with advocacy groups focused on police reform and accountability. This can help bring attention to the issue and support your cause.
- Follow legal procedures. Cooperate with your attorney and follow their advice throughout any legal proceedings. This may involve giving depositions, testifying in court, or negotiating settlements.
- Seek mental health support. Experiencing such a traumatic event can take a toll on mental health. Seek counseling or therapy to help cope with the emotional aftermath.
- Stay patient and persistent. Legal processes can be lengthy and complex. Stay patient and persistent in seeking justice for the excessive force incident.
Remember that every situation is unique, and it's important to trust your attorney to offer guidance tailored to your circumstances. They will be your advocate in navigating the legal system and pursuing the appropriate course of action.
Injuries That Can Be Caused by an Excessive Use of Force
When a police officer uses excessive force during an arrest, a wide range of injuries can occur due to the disproportionate and often violent methods employed. These injuries can range from minor to severe, and in extreme cases, they can even lead to death. Examples of the kinds of injuries that can happen include the following:
- Bruising and contusions. Officers may use excessive physical force, such as punches, kicks, or baton strikes, which can lead to bruises, contusions, and other soft tissue injuries.
- Fractures and broken bones. The use of force, like joint locks or baton strikes, could result in fractures or broken bones, particularly if the individual is forcibly restrained or struck with excessive strength.
- Internal injuries. Severe blows or pressure applied to the body can lead to internal injuries, such as damaged organs, internal bleeding, or ruptured blood vessels.
- Head injuries. Striking the head, especially if the person is thrown forcefully or subjected to a headlock, can result in concussions, traumatic brain injuries, or skull fractures.
- Spinal injuries. Excessive force that involves twisting or wrenching the body can cause spinal injuries, ranging from strains and sprains to more severe damage to the spinal cord.
- Nerve damage. The use of restraints or physical force can compress nerves, leading to temporary or permanent nerve damage and loss of sensation or function in affected areas.
- Choking and asphyxiation. If an officer uses a chokehold or places pressure on the neck, it can cause choking, loss of consciousness, and potentially fatal asphyxiation.
- Suffocation. Restraints used improperly, such as placing weight on the chest or face, can lead to suffocation and oxygen deprivation.
- Cardiac complications. Intense physical stress and fear caused by excessive force can trigger heart problems, particularly in individuals with pre-existing conditions.
- Death. In extreme cases, excessive force can lead to death. This can occur due to the cumulative effect of injuries sustained or due to specific actions, such as chokeholds, that interfere with breathing.
The severity of injuries resulting from excessive force can vary. Regardless of the situation, any use of excessive force by law enforcement officers should be thoroughly investigated and addressed to ensure accountability and prevent further incidents.