Police and Government Misconduct

Police and Government Misconduct

Oakland Law Collaborative members work to get justice for people who have been abused by police and other law enforcement and government agents.

Attorneys Rachel Lederman, Michael Flynn, and Hasmik Geghamyan have years of experience in successful civil rights litigation. We work to give voice to victims, hold police accountable, and stop police misconduct such as racial profiling, brutality, shootings, wrongful arrests, unlawful searches, and repression against political activism. We have obtained millions of dollars in compensation for those whose rights were violated, and have achieved meaningful reforms of police practices.

Excessive Force/ Brutality: Police are only allowed to use “reasonable”, “necessary” physical force to make an arrest, if an arrest is warranted. When officers use violence to punish you for asserting your rights, intimidate you, or coerce confessions, or use force indiscriminately against a crowd, that’s called excessive force and violates the Fourth Amendment.

Some examples are use of “batons” (clubs), Tasers, pepper spray and other chemical agents, so-called “less lethal” munitions, choke holds, dogs, punches, kicks, and take-downs, when force is not necessary, or in an unreasonably dangerous manner, or repeatedly after a person has been subdued, or when there’s no lawful basis for the arrest, or when the officer is inflicting force to retaliate based on something you said or your political views.

Wrongful Detention, SearchBART_arrest-editedes and Arrests: The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” This protection applies to your home, your car and your person. It applies to being pulled over, frisked, handcuffed, or being made to sit in the back of a police car without any real reason to suspect you of a crime. It applies to false arrests such as being taken to jail on trumped up charges like “resisting arrest”, “assaulting an officer” or “disturbing the peace” to cover up the cops’ illegal stop or use of excessive force.

Racial Profiling: Stops, searches, arrests and harassment are a daily occurrence in the Black and other targeted communities of color. Racial profiling is illegal. To make a stop, the police must have credible information a crime has occurred and reason to suspect you beyond your skin color.

Shootings / Deadly Force: Police internal investigations rarely hold cops accountable for  unjustified shootings. More often, officers cover for each other and try to blame the victim. And officers are almost never prosecuted for murder. A lawsuit may be the only way to uncover the truth and obtain some measure of justice for the family.

Civil Lawsuits for Police and Government Misconduct:

A civil lawsuit is a complaint that you file against the officers or agents who abused you, and usually against the city or government entity that employs them, for violating your rights. When your lawyer files the complaint in court, you become the plaintiff (the person who is suing) and the people and city you are suing become the defendants. A civil suit is different than a criminal charge where you are the defendant and the State is the plaintiff. Only the State or federal government can bring criminal charges, but anyone can file a civil suit. As the plaintiff, you have the burden of proving your case, whereas in a criminal case the State must prove the case and the defendant is presumed innocent.

At Oakland Law Collaborative we generally file police misconduct lawsuits in federal court under the federal Civil Rights Act, which allows individuals to sue police and others who act under state authority for violating their constitutional rights. In the lawsuit, we ask for money to compensate you for the violations, and in some cases we can also try to get an injunction, a court order stopping repeated misconduct through changes in police policy.

Police misconduct litigation is very difficult. Cities tend to defend their police aggressively to deter police misconduct claims. A legal doctrine called qualified immunity shields officers from liability in many cases, and judges and juries tend to be biased in favor of law enforcement. It is essential to hire a lawyer who specializes in police misconduct and is on top of this complicated and constantly evolving area of law.

If you think you might have a police misconduct claim, there are things you should do right away.

If you were injured, it is very important to document your injuries immediately. The best way is to promptly seek medical attention and to follow up as recommended by your doctor. It is also important to take high quality pictures of scrapes, bruises, and other marks, which may disappear within days or weeks.

In order to win your case, you will need to make a very strong showing of evidence. Evidence can come in many forms, including photographs, videos, police reports, and statements and testimony from witnesses. Sometimes the plaintiff’s testimony may be the only evidence of the police misconduct. However, finding additional evidence to back your testimony will make it more likely that you are offered a fair settlement or convince a jury that the officer violated your rights.

You should try to get the names and contact information of anybody who witnessed what happened. In many situations, doing so may be impossible, especially if you are placed under arrest. However, if there are witnesses whom you cannot identify, it may still be possible for us to track them down, and the sooner you contact us, or take steps to find them yourself, the better. Other evidence may be available from store surveillance cameras, police communications recordings, or other sources, and the sooner you contact us or another lawyer, the more likely we can make sure that evidence is not destroyed before we can get it. If you are being prosecuted, your criminal defense attorney may also be able to obtain this evidence and make it available to you for your civil case.

Another reason to see a lawyer promptly is that strict deadlines apply to civil rights lawsuits. In California, a tort claim must be filed with the government entity that employed the officers within six months of the incident. It is best to have an experienced police misconduct lawyer prepare the tort claim and the lawyer will need time to investigate the case first.

Oakland Law Collaborative members provide a free consultation on police misconduct claims. If we take your case, we usually require no payment up front, and work on a “contingency fee”, which means that we only get paid if we win or settle the case. The fee is an agreed-upon percentage of the money recovered. The court may also award attorney’s fees directly, to be paid by the defendant. A court-awarded fee may reduce or eliminate the amount of money that you owe your lawyer. Please contact one of our member law firms: Flynn Law Office, Rachel Lederman and Alexsis Beach, Attorneys, or Geghamyan Law Office.