A disturbing trend: Criminal charges against cops
Part 1: A cop is far more likely to be sued than shot — the prospect of a cop facing criminal charges for simply doing their job is increasingly common
Federal Civil Rights Investigations. Title 42, Section 1983. Internal Affairs Investigations. Civilian Police Review Boards. Each of the above phrases can bring fear to most police officers — and they should. In today’s litigious society, with more than 1,000,000 lawyers scrambling for a slice of the settlement pie, your odds of being sued are greater than your odds of getting shot. But lately, a more disturbing trend has started to emerge. Perpetrators are filing criminal charges against officers instead of, or in addition to, civil suits.
Here — in part one of this two-part piece — we’ll take a look at these legal threats by evaluating four recent cases. In part two — appearing on April 13, right in the middle of the ILEETA Conference — we’ll discuss some strategies to combat this emerging danger.
More (and More) Frequent Cases
Unfortunately, the U.S. District Court jury wasn’t very sympathetic to the defense and found the officer guilty of violating the dope smuggler’s civil rights. Taken into custody immediately after the verdict was handed down, the officer is looking at 15 years in federal prison.
This criminal trial in which I found myself wasn’t an isolated experience. Since beginning my career as a private trainer and consultant after retirement from active duty, I’ve been tapped quite a few times to review cases and provide expert testimony at trial in defense of police officers who’ve been criminally charged or indicted based on their force actions on the street. Here are a few examples I can talk about as the appeals process in each has already tolled.
Done By the Book, Charged Anyway
In the end, the jury saw through the BS and acquitted the officer.
Cop Gets Attacked, Then Gets Charged
Punches to the cop’s head were taking their toll. Shortly before the cop felt he was about to pass out, he managed to get the muzzle of his gun out far enough to put five shots into his attacker. Apparently, those five shots shocked the local police chief who actually joined in the blood lust for the officer’s badge. However, twelve jurors didn’t see it that way. I, along with three other force trainers, presented a mini-officer survival seminar in that Midwest courtroom that afternoon while members of the press held court out in the hallway.
Two days later, the jury verdict came down acquitting the officer.
Cops Blamed for Pursuit Fatality
The prosecution presented a picture of three innocent young people just out for an evening of fun (which included throwing full beer bottles at the pursuing officers). They both refused plea bargains resulting in misdemeanor convictions (which would’ve meant decertification, termination, and probable jail time). Again, the jurors paid attention to the testimony rather than the hype. After hearing about the pursuit continuum from yours truly, along with testimony from a state police accident reconstructionist who testified that there was no evidence indicating either police car struck the van, the jury acquitted both officers.
They got their jobs and their lives back, plus two years of back pay. What couldn’t be recovered was the mental anguish both officers suffered during those two years.
Next month, we’ll talk about some of the proactive measures you might take to hopefully head off — or at least minimize — some of the stress and anguish you might face should you find yourself on that side of the legal arena, a criminal defendant.
In the meantime, stay safe!
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