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Las Vegas Criminal Defense

Can You Sue a Police Officer?


If you’ve ever had a negative interaction with a law enforcement officer, you may have wondered whether or not you had any chance of winning a lawsuit against someone in such a powerful position.  The fact of the matter is police officers are sued across the county fairly often.  It is an undertaking that requires significant commitment and is not for the faint of heart.

Civil Law

To be sure, police officers enjoy broad powers in their efforts to carry out day to day duties.  Even so, there are parameters within which they must act.  Both the U.S. and state constitutions have built these strictures, and laws on the books are designed to impede police misconduct. Nonetheless, untold instances of police misconduct, either highly publicized or taking place in dark corners unbeknownst to the public, occur all the time.  That is why it is essential to understand precisely what legal recourse exists for victims who have suffered as a result of police misconduct or negligence.  Essentially, then, a civil lawsuit would have to be based on allegations that an officer violated the Constitutional rights of a Plaintiff. Legal claims could be aimed in several directions:

  • Personal Capacity Suit: In this situation, an officer may be sued for any alleged acts of wrongdoing.
  • Bystander Liability: Officers may be personally liable for wrongdoing, and the action could include fellow officers.  These bystanders may be deemed culpable if it can be demonstrated that they were aware of the offending officer’s violation of Plaintiff’s rights, had the occasion to intervene to prevent harm to the Plaintiff, and instead did nothing to intercede.
  • Supervisor Liability: Any supervisor who is indifferent to, or worse, supportive of officer behaviors that could interfere with citizens’ Constitutional rights, may be held liable for damages.  In particular, when a supervisor is aware of but effectively turns a blind eye to pervasive problems that could reasonably lead to Constitutional injuries to the public, it could result in personal liability for the supervisor.

One final approach to legal action might be an official-capacity suit.  In this situation, legal action is brought against the police department as an entity, rather than against the individual police officer(s).  This type of case generally relates to an accusation of improper police training, discipline, or supervision, or to an underlying climate within the department that accepts  and condones police actions that violate the Constitutional rights of individuals.

Should you Pursue a Lawsuit? 

Certainly, members of law enforcement have legal protections that make contemplating a lawsuit a weighty matter.  Such cases are generally not resolved for a matter of years and can be quite grueling.  Nonetheless, this country has civil laws specifically to shield people from the very abuses that we so often see coming out of local, state, and federal agencies whose mandate is to protect the public. If you believe your Constitutional rights have been trampled, perhaps it’s worth investigating next steps with the Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at Lobo Law.  Our mission is to fight for justice.  If that’s what you’re looking for, we’re the team for you.




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