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U.S. Supreme Court Tightens Restrictions on Suing Los Angeles Police Department Officers for Excessive Force


U.S. Supreme Court Tightens Restrictions on Suing Los Angeles Police Department Officers for Excessive Force

In order to sue a Los Angeles Police Department officer for using deadly force against a loved one, you must now show that the force was "unjustified and clearly unreasonable," according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following a rash of highly publicized instances of police officer brutality and excessive force, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision regarding seeking compensation from a police officer who goes above and beyond the call of duty by unjustly attacking individuals.

State and federal laws provide immunity to many individuals employed by local, state, and federal government agencies. The level of immunity varies depending on the job function and what exactly the individual was doing at the time of the injury. Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, citizens were able to directly sue police officers when they used excessive force while acting in a law enforcement capacity. Often times, when a citizen files a complaint of excessive force with the Los Angeles Police Department, the LAPD will conduct its own internal affairs investigation and issue a finding. If the LAPD finds excessive force was used, the police officer will be punished, such as through suspension or termination. The citizen can also use the finding to file an excessive force lawsuit in federal or state trial court.

Now, however, the LAPD will have almost absolute immunity from civil lawsuits for excessive force unless that force was (1) deadly, (2) unjustified, and (3) unreasonable.

In the U.S. Supreme Court case, a man at a fast food restaurant in Texas was intoxicated and allegedly in possession of a firearm. Texas state troopers attempted to arrest the man when he drove off at 110 mph. Thus began a long and treacherous 25-mile chase through winding Texas roads and highways. A nearby state trooper was listening to his radio and learned of the chase. It was announced that officers would be putting spikes on the road to puncture the suspect's tires. The state trooper drove to this location. Because he had been accused of not reacting fast enough during prior encounters, the state trooper requested to shoot at the car as it passed. His supervisor told him to wait to see if the spikes would puncture the tires. Instead, the state trooper immediately fired off six rounds. The driver was killed instantly. The state trooper said he had intended to stop the vehicle, not kill the driver.

The surviving family sued the state trooper, and the judge held that the state trooper was not immune from civil suit. The prosecutors appealed, and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. However, upon appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices voted 8-1 to prevent the lawsuit.

In light of the decision, local Los Angeles cases are now ripe for review. The Los Angeles City Attorney recently requested that a $5.7 million verdict against two police officers be overturned. The plaintiff in that case was involved in a drive-by shooting and was shot in the back by officers when he fled the scene. Though the jurors, judge, and appellate court agreed that shooting the suspect in the back was unreasonable, the Los Angeles City Attorney is now arguing that the new Supreme Court decision acts as precedent to show that the use of force was in fact reasonable.

If you or a loved one was injured by excessive or deadly force by a Los Angeles or Orange County police officer, call police brutality attorney Scott D. Hughes, (714) 423-6928 today to review your potential claims. Scott D. Hughes can evaluate the viability of a civil lawsuit against police officers, investigate allegations, and help you pursue compensation.

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