Although police brutality may be what most people think about when they hear the term “police misconduct,” in fact brutality is only one facet of police misconduct. Any action performed by a law enforcement officer which is unethical, unconstitutional, criminal, or which goes against established employment guidelines is considered police misconduct. As with any job, police officers have specific rules and guidelines of behavior. Because law enforcement officers are entrusted with the safety of communities and the people in those communities, an act of police misconduct, while potentially legal and constitutional, could still qualify as misconduct. Classifications of police misconduct can fall into three categories:
- Civil—a violation of constitutional protections;
- Procedural—a violation of departmental policy, or
- Criminal-a violation of the actual law.
The Difficulties Associated with Determining Whether Police Misconduct Occurred
An act of misconduct could be a combination of two, or of all three of these classifications. To make matters more complex, many police departments specifically detail what constitutes a breach of legality or protections afforded by the constitution, however even that can cause additional problems. As an example, most departments have specific policies regarding what type of police force is permitted in response to certain actions. What can be confusing is that these policies differ significantly from one department to another, while some departments have no policy at all.
Further, a particular department’s policy may not even be legal or constitutional. A police action which is permissible via a law enforcement’s policy, could be illegal, unconstitutional, or simply unethical by any reasonable standards. There is also the issue of police misconduct which occurs outside the guidelines of a particular law enforcement agency. While this is not a comprehensive list, police misconduct can include the following:
- Theft/Fraud—includes bribery, extortion under threat of arrest, protection money, misuse of police resources for personal gain or payroll fraud;
- Sexual Misconduct—includes sexual assault, sexual molestation of a minor, sexual assault under threat of arrest, sexual activity on duty, sexual harassment, or misuse of authority for sexual purposes;
- Use of Force—includes use of excessive force, use of unnecessary force, off-duty assault, domestic violence or denial of detainee medical care;
- Color of Law—includes false arrest, coerced confession, professional courtesy to avoid arrest or charges, perjury or false testimony and fraudulent warrant or wrong-door raid;
- Bias—includes racial profiling, sexual harassment, employment discrimination and racially motivated misconduct, and
- General—includes drug abuse, driving under the influence, dishonesty, perjury, collusion, and other criminal activity.
Instances of Police Misconduct in Alabama
As you can see, police misconduct encompasses much, much more than police brutality. Some recent instances of police misconduct in the state of Alabama include:
- The city of Birmingham settled a police misconduct civil lawsuit in 2014 which was brought by an inmate who fled from the police and was subsequently the victim of an alleged police assault. Dash-cam video captured officers striking the plaintiff for about ten seconds after he was pulled from his vehicle.
- In July 2015, Phenix City, AL reached a settlement with a woman who claimed her eye socket was fractured in an altercation with an officer. The plaintiff claimed the officer punched her after arriving on a domestic disturbance call. The plaintiff in this case received $275,000, the officer was disciplined, and the department subsequently purchased 60 body cameras for its officers.
- In December 2015, a story broke regarding members of a specialized Alabama narcotics team who had been accused of planting drugs and weapons on innocent young black men for a period of nearly two decades. According to the Alabama Justice Project, twelve officers in the Dothan Police Department’s narcotics squad participated in the scheme. Many of the young men who were targeted were subsequently prosecuted and imprisoned, with some of them still in prison. It is believed nearly 1,000 wrongful felony convictions were tied to the planted drugs and weapons.
Where to Turn if You are the Victim of Police Misconduct in Alabama
If you are the victim of police misconduct in the state of Alabama, you could be coping with severe injuries from an assault by a police officer, yet that officer denies any wrongdoing. Or perhaps you have lost a loved one at the hands of a police officer, yet the department is claiming the deadly force was justified. When you must stand up against a powerful institution, it is crucial that you have an experienced civil rights attorney by your side—someone who will advocate for you, protecting your rights and your best interests. Martinson & Beason is the law firm who can do that for you.
We have extensive experience with police misconduct cases, and we have the knowledge to thoroughly research these cases, finding the necessary facts which will hold the police officer and the department responsible. Police misconduct cases can be extremely complex, and can drag on for years, yet we can consult with experts in the field, carefully review your police report, thoroughly research your abuse claim and take the necessary legal action on your behalf. At Martinson & Beason, we believe your case matters, and we believe your future matters. Call Martinson & Beason today.