Police investigation of suspected criminal activity has become a very public issue, particularly given recent incidents involving the unnecessary use of deadly force. Although events of this magnitude don’t happen every day, there are many smaller incidents demonstrating that police officers do not always exercise their authority lawfully.
Take a recent case out of Fort Lauderdale involving a police officer who is caught on tape confronting a homeless man at a bus terminal, shoving him to the ground and slapping him in the fact before handcuffing him. In the video, the homeless man appears not to be acting in a threatening manner, but the officer chooses to exercise what seems to be unnecessary force. The officer was placed on paid leave when the police department found out about the incident, but it remains to see how the investigation turns out.
Police officers have a tough job, no doubt, and we should all respect them for their work. However, when officers fail to perform their job properly, citizens can and should exercise their legal rights. One way to do this is by filing a civil rights suit to hold the officer liable for constitutional violations. Although unnecessary use of force is a significant issue in the media in recent months, the most common claim in civil rights suits is false arrest, or the claim that an officer violated an individual’s right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable seizure.
The key to a valid arrest is that the officer must have had probable cause, or a reasonable basis, to believe that the individual was involved in criminal activity. In cases where the evidence was not adequate to support a belief that the suspect committed a crime, there may be a valid false arrest claim.
Probable cause is also an important consideration in the criminal defense process. In our next post, we’ll speak about this issue and how an experienced defense attorney can protect the rights of those facing criminal charges based on poor police investigation.
Source: Star Tribune, “Police officer under investigation after pushing, slapping homeless man in South Florida,” Curt Andersen, Feb. 24, 2015.