Excessive Police Force During Arrest

In July a shocking viral video showed NYPD employing a choke hold on an unarmed man. Police were trying to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes outside of a beauty parler. During the confrontation the citizen vehemently denies the charges and refuses to be handcuffed. The citizen desperately claimed that he could not breathe as at least four other officers bring him down and push his face into the sidewalk. He then lost consciousness, suffered a heart attack and died.

Racial Factors: Is this a racial issue?: There is a general perception that minorities are more often the subject of police use of force and wrongful arrest. Statistics absolutely support this idea. Between 2005 and 2008, 24 percent of Blacks and Latinos had physical force used against them during NYPD-initiated encounters. During that same time only 17 percent of whites suffered similar force. Despite higher use of force against minorities in those same stops, white drivers were more likely to possess contraband.

Empirical evidence confirms the existence of racial profiling for traffic stops. At the national level, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that for the year 2005, the most recent data available, Black drivers (4.5%) were twice as likely as White drivers (2.1%) to be arrested during a traffic stop, Whites (18.6%) were more likely than Blacks (13.7%) to be verbally warned by police.

Frequency: Some people argue that police misconduct it is rare. Others argue that misconduct is rampant. The truth is a matter of perception and interpretation. In 2008 1 out of every 266 police officers was accused of committing a violent crime in the line of duty. 1 out of every 947 police officers were accused of sexual assault. Compare this statistic to 1 out of every 3,413 regular citizens accused of sexual assault during that time. Officers are actually accused at a higher rate. It is important to realize that 33% of police officers charged during that time were ultimately convicted while 68% of citizens charged were ultimately convicted.

In years past, many incidents of alleged police misconduct were impossible to prove. Victims of police excessive force often have criminal records or are intoxicated. The courts view these victims as bad or unreliable witnesses. The alleged victim's baggage overshadows the issue of whether the officer overstepped his boundaries. However, in recent years the prevalence of video and equipment and cell cameras has led to many incidents being recorded. Recorded incidents speak for themselves. Like the tragic NYPD event, recorded police interaction remains open for the public to evaluate and courts to judge.

Examples: Virginia has a very low (3rd lowest in the country) rate of police misconduct. There have been several high profile incidents in recent months.

  1. RICHMOND JULY 2013: SHAMROCK ATTACK: A video showed a Richmond Police attacking a man and placing him in a choke hold while another officer struck him with a baton.
  2. PETERSBURG JULY 2014: Petersburg police attacked a man because he was attempting to record video of the arrest.
  3. WAVERLY 2013 : a man claimed to have suffered violent beating during a routine arrest

Your Rights: Generally, police officers have "qualified immunity" protection from being sued. When carrying out their duties, police officers are allowed to use reasonable force against citizens. Courts allow officers to use the degree of force necessary to restrain an individual. Excessive force by a police officer is a violation of a person's constitutional rights. Force is excessive if it is greater than the amount a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under those circumstances.

Most justifications require officers to follow a "use of force continuum" These policies describe a escalating series of actions an officer may take to resolve a situation. This continuum has many levels. The levels are:

(1) Officer Presence

(2) Verbalization

(3) Empty-Hand Control

(4) Non-lethal Force (Baton, OC "pepper" spray)

(5) Lethal Force (Should only be used if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another individual.). Many agencies consider a "choke-hold" to be deadly force. Officers have to use discretion to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation at hand. Instructors realize that the necessity for action at a specific level of the continuum may jumpy from low to high in a matter of seconds.

Legal Ramifications: If an officer exceeds his authority in imposing force he is subject to civil lawsuits and maybe criminal charges. Police often charge the victims of brutality with a crime in an effort to prevent their own prosecution. A good lawyer can defeat false charges. If the police have violated your rights do not hesitate to contact Vaughan Jones to discuss your rights.

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