Tampa Civil Rights & Police Brutality Lawyer
We rely on the police to protect us from violent crime in Tampa, FL. Is it more than a little disturbing, then, when we find that it is the police themselves who become perpetrators of unjustified violence?
When someone assaults you, it is quite natural to respond by calling the police. But who do you call when it is the police themselves who have assaulted you or otherwise violated your civil rights? Call our lawyers at Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers, because we know just how to handle these kinds of situations.
Police officers are paid with your tax money, Most of them, fortunately, are conscientious professionals. That is all the more reason to come after police officers who think that the law doesn’t apply to them. We’ll be more than happy to use state and federal law to show them the error of their ways.
How Our Tampa Civil Rights Lawyers Can Help You Obtain the Compensation You Deserve
Here at Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers, we’ve been fighting for the rights of personal injury victims since 1986. During that time, we have recovered more than $120 million for our clients. You are entitled to financial compensation for the suffering you’ve been through, and we will move heaven and earth to make sure that you get it.
As your Tampa personal injury lawyers, we will:
- Apply our expertise in both local and national civil rights law;
- Conduct a thorough investigation to pinpoint exactly how the police violated your civil rights during the encounter in question;
- Gather relevant evidence such as police reports, body cam recordings, and witness testimony;
- Negotiate compensation arrangements with Tampa legal representatives;
- Fight for your rights in court if necessary;
- Protect you from retaliation or intimidation by the police;
- Use Tampa’s local civil rights activists, experts, and community leaders to support your claim;
- Control the media narrative by highlighting the violations of your civil rights while at the same time protecting your privacy; and
- Provide you with frequent updates on the progress of your case.
The first step towards justice starts with you. Contact us today in Tampa, Florida, to get started with a free case review.
What’s the Difference Between a Criminal Prosecution and a Civil Lawsuit?
In a civil lawsuit, ordinarily, all you can claim are money damages. In unusual cases, you might be able to ask the court to issue an injunction ordering the defendant to do or refrain from doing something. The standard of proof is “a preponderance of the evidence,” which works something like a 51% standard-–you win if you can prove that the elements of your claim are more likely than not to be present.
In a criminal prosecution, by contrast, you cannot necessarily claim money damages even if the prosecution is successful (although courts often award restitution). The defendant, however, might face prison time. The standard of proof is the difficult-to-meet “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
You can file a lawsuit against the defendant even in the midst of a criminal prosecution for the same conduct.
Police Brutality: What Exactly Constitutes ‘Excessive Force’?
The police, of course, need to use a certain amount of force simply to do their job. The question that always arises is how much force an officer may use. There is no certain answer to this question that applies in every situation. The answer depends on:
- The seriousness of the crime the police suspect you of;
- Whether you are a threat to the officer or others;
- Whether you are resisting arrest or trying to flee; and
- Other factors that might come into play based on the ‘rule of common sense.’
In extreme cases, an officer may even use deadly force (shooting a suspect with a gun, for example). Nevertheless, the use of more force than necessary to accomplish a legitimate purpose constitutes the use of excessive force. The use of excessive force is a violation of your civil rights regardless of whether you are innocent or guilty of the crime that the police officer suspected you of.
The officer’s intentions don’t matter. Even if the officer has bad intentions, you have no civil rights claim if these intentions did not lead to the use of excessive force. Likewise, good intentions don’t matter either – you may have a civil rights claim if the officer used excessive force, no matter how good the officer’s intentions might have been.
Other Types of Civil Rights Violations
Police brutality is not the only kind of civil rights violation that might entitle you to compensation. You can also file a civil lawsuit over:
- False arrest;
- False imprisonment:
- Malicious prosecution:
- Failure to protect you from harm while you are in police custody; and
- Sexual harassment by the police.
You might have more than one of these claims at the same time (false arrest and the use of excessive force, for example.)
What Is ‘Qualified Immunity’?
Police officers enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution while performing their duties. If this were not the case, they would be hesitant to protect the public by performing their legitimate duties because they were fearful of a civil rights lawsuit. On the other hand, unlimited immunity would allow ‘bad apples’ to turn the country into a police state. A balance must be struck.
That balance is known as qualified immunity. Under qualified immunity, a police officer can defend against a lawsuit based simply on their status as a public servant. The exact extent of qualified immunity varies by state. In Florida, as long as the conduct of the police does not violate “clearly established” constitutional rights, you cannot sue the police. The civil right you are suing for must have been previously defined in a previous court case.
Qualified immunity is controversial, and it acts as a formidable obstacle to a civil rights claim for police brutality. That is exactly why a lawyer is a practical necessity if you seek to file a civil rights claim against the police.
What Kinds of Civil Rights Claims Might I Assert?
If you decide to file a civil rights claim against the police, Florida and the federal government provide you with several potential legal weapons, including:
- The Florida Civil Rights Act;
- Denial of due process rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution;
- Denial of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure contained in the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution; and
- “1983” claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which allows individuals to seek damages against government officials, including police officers. This claim is based on a federal statute, not the state or federal constitution.
These claims may look simple, but they are filled with nuance and complexity defined by previous court cases. Speak with your lawyer about how the facts of your case might warrant the use of any of these claims.
What Do I Have To Prove To Win My Civil Rights/Police Brutality Claim in Tampa?
To win a civil rights claim against the police, you must prove that:
- The officer’s actions deprived you of your civil rights under the state or federal constitution (even for a 1983 claim); and
- The defendant police officer was acting under the “color of law.” You satisfy this element by proving that the officer relied on the authority granted to them by the government. Punching you out in response to a private dispute between you two, for example, probably wouldn’t qualify, although you might file an ordinary assault claim in this instance.
As a practical matter, you will almost certainly also have to prevent the defendant police officer from proving that qualified immunity protected their actions.
What Kinds of Damages Might I Qualify for After My Civil Rights Were Violated in Tampa, FL?
“Damages” is a term for money that a court awards you for winning a personal injury lawsuit. Florida courts recognize three forms of damages–economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are easy-to-count damages such as medical expenses and lost earnings. Imagine your economic damages, for example, if the officer caused you a concussion by hitting you with a baton, thereby causing you to suffer a concussion and miss a week off of work.
Non-economic damages are intangible, difficult-to-count damages such as pain and suffering and emotional distress. Courts often award more in non-economic damages than they do in economic damages.
Courts might award punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was outrageous. Police brutality is an intentional tort, in the sense that the negligent (careless) use of excessive force is not a civil rights claim. As such, you can sue the officer for punitive damages if the officer’s conduct was malicious or if it exhibited reckless indifference to your civil rights.
Courts award punitive damages in addition to economic damages and non-economic damages. You cannot win punitive damages unless you also win one of these forms of damages. Keep in mind that courts rarely award punitive damages.
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation With a Tampa Civil Rights/Police Brutality Lawyer
If your civil rights were violated by a police officer in Tampa, Florida, we’re here to help. Our Tampa civil rights/police brutality lawyers are some of the most experienced in the area. You can count on us to get you a favorable outcome for your case.