Police Excessive Force Lawyer
The Fourth Amendment protects you from the use of excessive force and other acts of police brutality. Our police excessive force lawyers in Florida help victims fight back against abusive police departments and demand justice and compensation for the harm they have encountered.
Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Attorney Mark O’Mara
Content last updated on: May 18, 2023
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Since 2016, more than 15,908 reports of police misconduct have been filed against police officers across the state of Florida. Many of these complaints involved allegations of excessive force — during arrests, while in custody pending trial, and in prison. The police must use reasonable and appropriate levels of force.
If you were the victim of an officer’s use of excessive force, your rights may have been violated, and you may be entitled to compensation. The Florida police excessive force attorneys at O’Mara Law Group can help you assert your rights and demand the financial justice you deserve.
As nationally recognized Florida trial attorneys, we are fierce advocates for victims of police brutality, excessive force, and other civil rights violations. Since 2007, we have fought tirelessly on behalf of clients who were mistreated and abused by the police.
If your rights have been violated, we are ready to fight to make things right. Benefit from a team of top-rated litigators with over 35 years of experience handling tough injury cases like yours. Call our law offices in Orlando or Lakeland, Florida, to arrange a free consultation today.
What is excessive force?
Under the law, the police can use force to make an arrest, conduct a search and seizure, or lawfully gain control of a situation. Most police departments have established guidelines regarding the appropriate level of force under different circumstances.
The appropriate level of force depends on the potential threat and compliance of suspects. The use-of-force continuum is:
- Officer presence (no verbal or physical force used)
- Officer verbalization (officer uses nonthreatening words and commands)
- Empty-hand control (officer may grab, hold, punch, or kick to gain control)
- Less-lethal control (officer utilizes forceful but nonlethal, techniques to gain compliance — including batons or projectiles, pepper spray, or Taser)
- Lethal force (officer uses a firearm or another lethal weapon)
The use of force must be reasonable and related to the threat posed to the officer or public. Excessive force is a form of police misconduct in which an officer uses force beyond what is reasonably necessary under the circumstances.
Examples of Excessive Force by Police
Whether or not force is excessive is subjective. It wholly depends on the circumstances of a specific situation. Some examples of excessive force include:
- Failing to use nonverbal commands or force
- Causing unnecessary physical injury
- Causing physical harm to detained or restrained suspects
- Physically assaulting a suspect who is already complying with requests or commands
- Use of nonlethal force or deadly force when unnecessary
- False arrests
- Prison abuse
Excessive force can be verbal or nonverbal. For instance, it could be considered excessive force for an officer to use threats or intimidating commands when a suspect is already compliant or a situation has already been diffused.
How often do police use excessive force?
Interactions with the police are becoming increasingly violent. According to Mapping Police Violence, fatal police interactions rose by approximately 5 percent between 2013 and 2021.
In 2021, police killed 1,140 people as a result of using force. Most of these deadly altercations began with a police officer responding to a report of a nonviolent crime. In fact, 115 of these deaths stemmed from traffic stops.
Compared with other states in the nation, Florida gets better-than-average marks for its ability to abstain from excessive use of force. It is in the 60th percentile for police violence — meaning it scores better than 60 percent of the states in the nation. It scores in the 69th percentile for deadly use of force per arrest and the 55th percentile for deadly force per arrest involving unarmed victims.
However, Florida ranked in the 6th percentile for the number of excessive force complaints upheld, which could indicate that citizen allegations of excessive use of force are disregarded.
Between 2013 and 2021, police officers in Florida used “less-lethal” force in 63 out of every 10,000 arrests. Over the years, that totaled 29,806 incidents of “less-lethal” force against Florida citizens. Deadly force was used in 1 out of every 10,000 arrests, meaning 678 Floridians were killed as a result of police deadly force during this time.
Why do some police officers use excessive force?
Police officers go through extensive training. Their job is to uphold the law and protect the public. So why do some use more force than is reasonably necessary when exercising their duties? A police officer might use excessive force for many reasons:
Police officers may turn to a less-lethal option or use deadly force if they become afraid or fearful. However, fear doesn’t necessarily justify an officer’s elevated use of force.
Ego and Abuse of Power
Over time, police officers might develop an increased sense of power and self-worth and forget that they took an oath to serve and protect. They may use force to demonstrate their perceived status of superiority over others.
Mental Health Issues
Studies suggest that nearly one out of every four police officers suffers from a mental health illness, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. About 12 percent of officers struggle with a lifelong mental health diagnosis. These illnesses can affect their judgment and reasoning and impair their ability to determine which level of force is reasonable in interactions with the public.
Prejudice and Discrimination
Research suggests that minorities are more likely to be victims of police misconduct and excessive force. According to the Police Scorecard, in Florida, a Black person is two-and-a-half times more likely than a white person to be killed by a police officer.
Though Florida spends $10.1 billion a year to fund the police, some officers might not receive the necessary training to help them identify the appropriate level of force in a given situation. An untrained or undertrained police officer could more likely resort to excessive levels of force in an altercation or interaction with a suspect.
The Fourth Amendment Protects You from Police Brutality and the Use of Excessive Force
You have certain civil rights that are protected by the Constitution. This includes the right to be free from the excessive use of force under the Fourth Amendment.
While the Fourth Amendment doesn’t explicitly state that people are protected from the use of unreasonable force, courts have held that it is an extension of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
In Graham vs. Connor, the Supreme Court of the United States held that claims of excessive force should be considered in the context of the specific situation, rather than based on the motive or intent of a police officer.
Facts and circumstances are what matter when deciding whether a police officer used excessive force. Ultimately, determining whether a reasonable officer facing the same situation would have used the same level of force is crucial.
Considering an excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment involves five important things. Known as the Graham factors, these include:
- The severity of the crime
- The immediacy of the threat
- Active resistance of arrest
- Flight to evade arrest
- Split-second decisions
Ultimately, the immediacy of the threat — to police officers or others — is the most significant factor when considering excessive force claims.
If you have been the victim of a police officer’s use of excessive force in Florida, understanding your legal rights and options is vital. Excessive force is a violation of your civil rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, found in 24 US Code § 1983.
You may have the right to file a Section 1983 lawsuit or personal injury lawsuit for battery to demand compensation for your injuries and suffering. Our experienced Florida civil rights attorneys can help you navigate this complex process and fight to make things right.
How long do I have to file an excessive force claim in Florida?
The Florida statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits — including those involving intentional torts such as assault and battery by a police officer — is four years.
You may also have the right to file a police brutality claim for excessive force under federal law. In these situations, Florida’s four-year statute of limitations also applies.
This gives you until the fourth anniversary of the date the police officer used excessive force to bring a claim under Florida state law. To protect your rights, speak to an attorney as soon as possible after the incident.
Trusted Civil Rights Lawyers Ready to Help Make Things Right
The police are expected to uphold the law and protect citizens like you. You have certain unalienable rights, even if you are suspected of committing a crime. The police are permitted to use force to make an arrest or diffuse a potentially violent situation, but the force they exercise must be reasonable.
When law enforcement crosses the line and use inappropriate levels of force, civilians can sustain serious physical injuries and suffer extensive emotional distress. There is simply no excuse to violate your Fourth Amendment rights. That is why the civil rights lawyers at O’Mara Law Group are ready to use their experience fighting against police use of excessive force to demand justice for you.
We have gained national recognition for our civil rights work and commitment to holding abusive and violent police officers accountable for their actions.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of excessive force or brutality by police, contact the O’Mara Law Group so we can help get you the justice you deserve. Our legal team is available 24/7.
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