In U.S. history, there have been a number of lawsuits that have been appealed all the way through the court system to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many of these cases have become landmark civil rights decisions. Regarding the issue of police brutality, Graham v. Connor from 1989 is one of the most important opinions ever written in America due to the fact that it involved egregious behavior by officers and outlined standards of conduct that courts could use to judge their actions after the incident. 

What happened before the lawsuit? 

The underlying case facts involve the plaintiff, Graham, who went into a convenience store to get juice to prevent a diabetic reaction, but drove away and left before buying anything due to a long line. Connor was an officer nearby who stopped Graham’s car and tried to investigate what he considered to be suspicious behavior, even though Graham’s friend tried to explain his health problems to the police. Over the course of their interaction, Graham passed out due to his blood sugar issues, but he was handcuffed, verbally taunted, and beaten by the officers on the scene rather than assisted. 

Even though Graham was eventually released and never charged with any crimes, he sustained serious injuries from the police beating. These included injuries to his feet, shoulders, wrists, and bruising all over his body. Graham’s attorney later filed a federal civil rights case that alleged excessive use of force by the officers and asked for damages.  

A watershed moment for police brutality cases

When the Supreme Court gave their opinion and sent the case back to the lower court of appeals for consideration, they said that review of police use of force should be objective and not attempt to discern the officer’s intentions. Many of these factors are still used today during police brutality lawsuits for excessive use of force, such as whether the crime in progress was serious or whether there was an actual threat to public safety in the area. They also said that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. constitution explicitly protects against this kind of violent police intrusion. 

Because the facts of every police brutality case are different, police actions have always been reviewed on a case by case basis during lawsuits to see if they abused their authority by using an unnecessary amount of violence.  

What uses of force are considered excessive?

Based on the reasoning in Graham v. Connor and many decisions that came afterwards, police cannot beat someone or use deadly force to respond to minor crimes, because it is objectively unreasonable when compared to the government’s interest in stopping non-violent crime. Factors such as attempted flight from an officer generally have not been considered enough of a reason to use excessive force. For people who have had issues with police brutality, the best course of action is to contact a lawyer and get the attorney’s opinion regarding how a court will analyze their particular situation.  

Police brutality lawyers can assist you

If you have specific questions about an incident involving the police that you need answered, it is best to get help from a lawyer as soon as possible. There are attorneys available in your area who specialize in lawsuits against law enforcement.

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