Excessive force is used to describe incidents in which government officials exceed the maximum amount of force necessary to diffuse a situation. While this phrase may be utilized to describe certain military operations or prisoner interactions, it is most often utilized when discussing the actions taken by police officers during an arrest.
Most recently, the death of George Floyd on May 25th has drawn significant attention from around the nation as an eight-minute video documented a police officer kneeling on his neck while he screamed that he couldn’t breathe. It has sparked conversations of cases of excessive force, more specifically known as police brutality, in numerous police districts around the country.
Excessive force comes in many forms, ranging from lethal acts to the overuse of non-lethal weapons such as tasers and pepper spray. A police officer may be held liable for using excessive force, as well as failing to prevent another police officer from using excessive force. However, while criminal charges may be posed to police officers in both federal and state courts, winning these cases have been extremely difficult. Without video evidence of an incident, it is hard to prove that a police officer acted excessively. Additionally, an individual claiming to be victimized by excessive force will have to have suffered a significant injury. Even if these conditions are met, a police officer can still maintain that his level of force was reasonable leaving the jury in a very difficult position to decide on a verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.
While it may be difficult to bring forth a criminal case against a police officer accused of using excessive force due to the possession of certain protections, it is possible to go forth with a civil suit to receive justice. Excessive force claims rely heavily on Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 which deems it illegal for any individual acting under the ordinance or authority of the law to deprive any citizen of the “United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.” In these cases, the court focuses on the facts of the case – the severity of the crime called for, whether you posed a threat to the officer or the public, and the opinions of the police officer involved. Police experts are usually called in to provide expert testimony on the acts of the police in each respective situation.
If you succeed in proving excessive force, you may be eligible to receive monetary compensation for the civil rights violation by police officers as well as potential damages for emotional and physical injuries sustained by the hands of the police.