Suing The Police

In a recent post, I talked about lawsuits against the police. It was about how the city has been shutting down small lawsuits by refusing to settle. The result is that the injured person can't find an attorney (minor injury, small case), so they don't take it to trial or if they do they can't win.

Lawsuits against the police are difficult enough already, for a couple of reasons. One is that most cases don't involve a major injury, even if harm was done. Another reason is because it's often the officer's word against the defendant's. So unless you have a serious injury, and proof (like video), you're not going to get far.  But with the advent of smart phones, video has become more of an equalizer in many of these cases.

The reason I bring this up again is the recent settlement in the case where an officer shot an unarmed man in the face without provocation. It settled for $3 million. It's a big case because the man was killed, and also because it was caught on CTA surveillance video. At first, the police department said the cop was provoked. They said the victim struggled with the officer for his gun. Then the video came out. It shows no provocation. The victim was just standing there when the officer raised his weapon and shot him. The police department changed its story.

As for the officer, he has been promoted. The initial recommendation of the police review authority was that the officer should be fired. That was reduced to a one-month suspension. The officer is now a detective. So even if there is a case with serious injury and proof, you may not get the outcome you'd like. Sure, $3 million is a lot of money, but you can bet the man's mother thinks the officer who shot her son should have been fired and possibly put in jail himself.  Personally, I don't understand why this case hasn't brought more media outrage.

In another recent case, the police were sued by a detective they arrested. The detective sued for unlawful seizure and false imprisonment, claiming they had no reason to arrest him. He won. The jury awarded him $200,000. So maybe we should add on to the list of things that make a "good case": major injury, proof of misconduct, and being an officer yourself. Had the wrongfully arrested guy been a civilian, a lawsuit likely would not have been a realistic option.

Let me make clear that I am not saying police officers abuse the system any more than anyone else. In any group of people or employees or workers, there are those who don't follow the rules, those who take advantage, and those who cheat the system.  It's the same for lawyers. There are some bad ones out there who give the rest a bad name. (And it's not easy to sue a bad lawyer, either.)

I believe most police officers are honest and hardworking. But that doesn't mean we should look the other way when there is legitimate abuse of power. These things happen, and when they do, the victims and their families don't always get the justice they're looking for.


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