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What a Lawyer Can Do in Police Harassment Cases



The majority of police officers are competent professionals who recognize the boundaries of their authority and are diligent in following proper protocol in questioning citizens and respecting their rights. There are instances, however, where an officer may violate the rights of an individual either through misunderstanding, frustration or outright hostility and you will need to retain a lawyer.

Police harassment is an abuse of an officer’s authority by continually or arbitrarily stopping someone, aggressively questioning him or her, or by conducting an unwarranted or illegal search and seizure. The harassment is commonly an attempt to coerce someone into admitting complicity in a crime, or by threatening or intimidating a person to obtain information. Your attorney helping fight against police brutality and misconduct may need to locate a number of credible witnesses to prove repeated civil rights violations in these instances.

Examples of Police Harassment

Police harassment can take a variety of forms and include diverse victims. Some common examples of police harassment include:

  • Illegal spying or placing certain people under surveillance
  • Racial or ethnic profiling
  • Use of excessive force
  • Making racist, sexist or homophobic comments
  • Illegal detention
  • Illegal search and seizure

Legal or Illegal Arrest

Police have broad latitude in carrying out their function to fight crime and to protect citizens. Being stopped by an officer is not a pleasant experience, but even if you are innocent, police officers are not liable for violating your civil rights if they are performing their duties properly. For example, if the officer had probable cause to believe you may have committed a crime, your arrest is most likely proper, and you will have no legal recourse. It is of no consequence if the facts the arresting officer relied on turn out to be false as long as the officer reasonably believed them to be true at the time of your arrest.

When Police Exceed Their Authority

If your arrest was based on false testimony from a known unreliable source, or it was based solely on your ethnicity, your lawyer may be able to demonstrate a civil rights violation. If a fellow officer witnessed your illegal arrest and failed to intervene, an additional charge may be brought against that officer for failing to intervene to protect you from a constitutional violation.

Most violations are based on excessive force. Even if the officers had sound intentions when restraining you, they may not cause unwarranted serious bodily harm or death, such as using a taser on you while you are handcuffed and posing no danger. Whether the officers used excessive or unreasonable force is based on the surrounding facts and circumstances that your attorney will carefully investigate.

A Constitutional Remedy

Your lawyer can bring a police harassment complaint in court under Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983. This act makes it illegal for anyone acting under the color or authority of state law to deprive someone of his or her rights, privileges or immunities under the Constitution or federal law.

In racial profiling harassment cases, your lawyer can obtain applicable records and data to demonstrate that your city or town followed a systematic policy of violating the rights of minorities. While you cannot sue the state, your lawyer can bring a "1983 action" against the police officer, the police chief and the local government. In some cases, it may be possible to bring a class action lawsuit on behalf of more than one victim of harassment.