The recent protests throughout the United States, including those here in Orange County, denouncing the actions of Minneapolis police officers have driven many politicians to push for serious police reform on a local, state, and even federal level. While these various proposals and reforms have focused on reevaluating how officers respond to 911 calls, changes to police budgets, new procedures, and more oversight into police misconduct, there is still the matter of how officers should conduct themselves when police brutality does occur. Misconduct and brutality do not occur in a vacuum, and many officers are taught these behaviors and practices throughout their training and careers.
As seen with the death of George Floyd, the three additional Minneapolis police officers overseeing the arrest did not act to prevent officer Derek Chauvin’s actions and have since been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Thus, we must ask, what is the legal duty of officers who witness police brutality, and what can be done when they allow it to occur?
Explaining Excessive Force
Excessive force is the main term thrown around when discussing police brutality. It can constitute a wide variety of actions, from discharging a firearm at a suspect without probable cause or even slamming a suspect’s head against a police vehicle when making an arrest. Plainly put, excessive force is any action that leads to a suspect suffering great bodily harm during an investigation or arrest without due cause. To determine if an officer used excessive force, the court must review whether or not their actions were “objectively reasonable,” meaning a reasonable person would have committed the same actions under the same circumstances. If it is determined that the officer was not justified in using force, then they may have committed police misconduct and violated a citizen’s civil rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment, which bars against unlawful searches and seizures.
The amount of force an officer is legally allowed to use when handling a suspect varies depending on the situation. Most of the time, the officer will argue that the suspect was resisting arrest and was a danger to the officer. However, the amount of force being used must only match the actions of the suspect. If a suspect stops resisting, the officer must stop applying force. This includes using pepper spray, tasers, or batons to restrain a suspect. If at any point during the arrest, the suspect requires immediate medical attention, the officer must contact emergency responders and attend to the suspect’s condition.
But what about other officers? Are they required to stop a fellow officer from committing excessive force?
A Culture of Police Misconduct
Taking the Derek Chauvin case as an example, the three fellow Minneapolis Police officers are accused of knowingly and willingly allowing Chauvin to place his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, ultimately leading to his death. Since then, the state of Minnesota has chosen to charge those three officers with aiding and abetting a second-degree murder, which is in line with the charges filed against Derek Chauvin.
Aiding and abetting, in the context of this case, would mean that the officers knew a crime was being committed and took no action to prevent it. Based on objective reasonability, one could argue that other reasonable police officers would have stopped Derek Chauvin and arrested him for police misconduct, as well as assault and battery. Thus, there is a precedence for filing charges against officers who allow another officer to commit police brutality.
However, sadly, this is often not the case. Police officers, whether in Minneapolis or Orange County, have developed their own culture that sets them apart from everyday citizens. When one officer commits misconduct, it is not uncommon for other officers to let it slide or even assist in the crime. This is partially because officers do not want to snitch on their fellow cops or superiors, or because they fear reprisal. Police officers are not above harassment, as noted by a Vice article on officers who arrest other officers. Because police culture reinforces the idea that cops have to stick together no matter what, it is rare for officers to speak out against or stop police brutality or misconduct.
What to Do When You Experience Police Brutality
It is hard for anyone to look at the news and reports about police brutality and not develop anxiety about law enforcement. Even if you are completely innocent of a crime, you may fear for your life while being pulled over or stopped by a police officer when out with your friends or family. And even if you have committed a crime, you are still entitled to all of your civil rights and due process.
You may be wondering what you can do if you do suffer police brutality, especially if other officers allow it to happen. First and foremost, contact an attorney who has experience in dealing with police misconduct. On one hand, attorney Michael Guisti can provide sound and thorough legal advice against the charges filed against you, including resisting arrest. In addition, he can file complaints with local Orange County police departments against the officers involved in your case to have them reprimanded for their actions, which can lead to a suspension, firing, and even arrest.
He can also represent you in a civil case if your civil rights were violated by the police. Officers have clear procedures about when they can use force and how to properly arrest a suspect. Any violations of your Miranda Rights or Constitutional Rights may lead to charges being dropped, as well as a civil lawsuit against the officers for damages. Michael Guisti has successfully filed cases against Orange County police departments, including one involving the wrongful death of a resident of Huntington Beach.
If you have suffered due to police brutality or misconduct, do not hesitate to contact an Orange County defense attorney. The Law Office of Michael L. Guisti can not only represent you against criminal charges, but also advocate for compensation from the officers in your case. Call us at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free at (888) 478-8999 to learn about your rights.