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The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects everyone from unreasonable searches and seizures. That Amendment specifically places limits on police conduct. Police do occasionally cross that line, however, leading an individual to inquire whether and how he or she can sue the police for harassment.

The personal injury lawyers at Manhattan’s Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb & Green respect the professional efforts of New York’s police authorities to provide an environment that is secure and safe from criminal activity. We also counsel our clients to help them understand their rights on those occasions when police conduct transitions into prohibited harassment.

The U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1871 protects individuals from police abuse

Section 1983 of the Act prohibits the police from violating another person’s civil rights. Other provisions of state law add to those protections. An individual whose rights have been abused by a policeman or other government official may have a cause of action under Section 1983 against both the policeman or official that caused the abuse and the local government entity that employs the policeman.

Law enforcement authorities may be immune from suit

The police have a limited form of immunity from lawsuits as long as they are acting within the confines of their jobs and are not carrying out their job  functions in an unreasonable or negligent manner. This qualified immunity allows police to do their jobs and to respond to dangerous circumstances without an omnipresent fear of lawsuits.

What you need to show to sue the police for harassment

Police misconduct encompasses a number of different types of claims against the police, including discrimination, false arrest, and excessive use of force in view of the circumstances. A person who wishes to file to claim police harassment will need to verify that:

  • The policeman or law enforcement official who caused the harassment has demonstrated a pattern of harassing behavior. A single incident of harassment by one individual is rarely sufficient to sustain a police harassment claim.
  • The policeman who caused the harassment did not have probable cause or an appropriate warrant for an arrest. Courts will not hesitate to dismiss claims of harassment against the police if the victim of that harassment is unable to show that the police had no probable cause to arrest him. Even a belief of probable cause by the policeman may be sufficient to reject an argument that an arresting officer did not have evidence-based probable cause.
  • The excessive force used by the policemen caused serious injury or death.  The burden is often placed on the victim to show that the circumstances of an excessive force event did not merit the policeman’s harassing conduct.

Although these factors might seem to suggest that a lawsuit for police harassment is unlikely to succeed, the specific facts and evidence of a particular event will be the crux of proving a police harassment case.

What steps can you take to prepare a harassment lawsuit against the police

Before you file a harassment lawsuit against the police, you should take a few preparatory steps.

  • Determine if you can file a grievance directly with the police or a government authority that has authority over the police. In New York, for example, almost 4,500 separate grievances were filed against the police in 2017. Contact an attorney that has experience in pursuing police harassment lawsuits for help in filing grievances properly. Even if you do not have grounds to file a lawsuit immediately, your grievance may begin to establish a pattern of harassments.
  • Preserve all evidence of the circumstances that reflect police harassment. Remember that many police officers wear body cameras, and that your evidence may be challenged by body camera and other surveillance video of the harassment event.
  • Retain an attorney as soon as is possible to review your case. You might need to comply with shorter statutes of limitations and other procedural rules to file a valid lawsuit against the police. 

What damages can you recover

As recently as 2014, New York City paid an annual aggregate of $45 million in damages for police misconduct allegations. If you do have a valid lawsuit for police harassment, your damages will be a function of any property losses and injuries that flowed from the harassment. Your attorney will explain if damages are available for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses. Related: How To Sue a City for Harassment

Call Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb & Green, P.C. if you are a victim of police harassment in New York

For a specific answer as to whether you can sue the police for harassment and to speak with a personal injury lawyer about the facts of your prospective police harassment case, call the Manhattan offices of the Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb, and Green. Our NYC police brutality lawyers represent individuals in Manhattan, the Bronx, Long Island, and Brooklyn, whose rights have been disregarded by overzealous law enforcement authorities. 

Additional Resources:

  1. NY Post, Police Misconduct Allegations Are Up Against NYPD.  https://nypost.com/2018/04/12/police-misconduct-allegations-are-up-against-nypd/
  2. Buzzfeed, NYPD Discipline Needs More Transparency, A Panel Of Experts Said, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kendalltaggart/nypd-discipline-independent-panel-report