Unreasonable force refers to situations when government officials legally entitled to use force exceed the necessary minimum amount to diffuse an incident or to defend others or themselves from harm.
Elements of Unreasonable Force
According to CACI 440 the plaintiff must be able to prove the following elements to establish this claim:
- Defendant used force in arresting or detaining the plaintiff
- The amount of force used by the defendant was unreasonable
- Plaintiff was harmed
- Defendant’s use of unreasonable force was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff
Governmental Immunity Granted to the Police Officer
Under the legal doctrine of governmental immunity, a police officer’s actions are protected from liability while being on the job.
This is a rule that the police officer generally can’t be sued for reasonable actions taken while performing his official duties. So, the right to make an investigatory stop or arrest necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical force, but the degree of the force must be proportional to the threat and be applicable only in response to the threat.
Courts can also grant police officers qualified immunity along with deferring to a law enforcement reasonableness standard.
This aims to protect public officials from civil liability for violations of rights as long as they were reasonably performing their duties and the rights weren’t clearly established. In unreasonable force cases, qualified immunity can protect police officers in more unclear situations where there’s a border between necessary and unreasonable force.
Though, to benefit from this immunity, a public official must be able to show that a reasonable person in his position wouldn’t have known that his conduct violated clearly established law.
Examples of Unreasonable Force
Here are some examples of excessive force and police abuse.
- Improper shootings
- Unreasonable use of weapon
- Police dogs
- Sexual assault
- Fabricating evidence
- False arrest
What Can a Victim Do?
A victim might be able to take his case to the court if he was victimized by law enforcement. Generally, there can be three main causes of action:
- Constitutional claims
- State criminal claims
- Civil tort claims
What Remedies Are Available?
Under Section 1983 of the United States Code, an unreasonable force is a constitutional violation that can be remedied by filing a civil rights complaint for injunctive or monetary relief. A plaintiff can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, which can decide to investigate his case.
When deciding the issue of whether the government official engaged in excessive force or not, courts consider particular circumstances to determine if the actions were objectively reasonable.
Among the Circumstances to Be Considered Are the Following:
- Whether the plaintiff reasonably appeared to pose an immediate threat to the safety of the defendant or others
- The seriousness of the underlying crime at issue or circumstances
- Whether the plaintiff was actively resisting arrest or attempting to avoid the arrest by flight
- Whether other alternatives were available
- Defendant’s tactical conduct and decisions before using force on the plaintiff
Have you been involved in an arrest where you’ve experienced unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer? Experienced attorneys at KAASS Law are here to help protect your rights. Get in touch with us to go over the details of your case at any time!