Police Brutality and Excessive Force

Practicing in civil rights litigation, we see a lot of police officers abuse their power. Unfortunately, there are many reasons police misconduct usually stays out of the public spotlight. There are myriad systemic barriers to holding bad cops accountable for discrimination, excessive force, illegal search and seizures,  unlawful arrests, and more. They include:  gutting of civilian review authorities, failed oversight, use of squad and body cameras, non prosecution of officers by prosecutors, the militarization of police, powerful police unions, pocketed arbitrators, institutionalized racism, victims with criminal records, and many others.

Minnesota Civil Rights Attorneys

The problems are on such a broad scale and are so layered and complicated that piercing through all of them would require a complete overhaul to the way we police our law enforcement and govern ourselves. It seems, however, that such an overhaul will only come if we reach a point where, as a public, we stop forgetting about the problem between events that garner national media attention. We must start regularly and continuously demanding answers and changes from our governments, prosecutors, judges, and politicians.

Although the courtroom is one venue to get justice for those such as Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri) and Eric Garner (New York City) (and we’re proud to be a part of that) we must also focus on prevention.  If we truly want to stop these things from happening, we must care enough to do more than have periodic outrage.

The most immediate way to get involved is to get active in city-level politics. Attend board meetings; talk to your city council representative; get involved in the elections of prosecutors and police administrators; inform the media; request data pursuant to Freedom of Information Act; …do what it takes to become knowledgeable and involved.

The events of the past few months–and ones similar to them–are about more than those cops and their victims. They are about who we are as a nation. They’re about who we are as people and how we treat each other. We must acknowledge that we have a national problem. And once we do, we must not knowingly allow those who wear the badges of our governments to inflict injustice. We must get involved.

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In August 2012, I wrote about the problem with the City of Minneapolis dispensing with civilian review of police officers’ conduct. That year, the Minneapolis Police officers’ unionVelma Korbel and Susan Segal collectively took a nail gun to the coffin of the now-defunct Civilian Review Authority.

 

Over two years later, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges penned an open letter acknowledging that Minneapolis has some bad police officers and that there is a strained relationship between Minneapolis police and parts of the community. Mayor Hodges also reiterated her commitment to civilian review and police officer accountability in general. In doing so, she mentioned the need for the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department to change, which I wholeheartedly agree with. (For example, this summer,  I spoke with watchdog.org about the militarization of police and the effect it can have on the culture of a police department.)

In the end, Mayor Hodges proposed several things to establish such a culture changes, including the use of body cameras by Minneapolis Police officers. Use of body cameras by those  we give a badge and a gun and entrust to protect us should be celebrated as advancements in both technology and accountability. Body cameras protect the majority of police officers, who have hard jobs but carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism. They also protect civilians who, quite frankly, are too often victims of illegal conduct by bad cops.

Unfortunately, some police officers don’t like the use of technology that helps ensure such accountability. Last week, in what amounts to transparent retaliation against Mayor Hodges for her extremely reasonable position, officers of the Minneapolis Police Department sent a photo to KSTP News of Mayor Hodges posing with a North Minneapolis get-out-the-vote volunteer. The officers declared that Mayor Hodges, who was pointing at the volunteer, was flashing a “known gang sign.” The nation collectively exhaled. 

#Pointergate–as the scandal has come to be known–barely begins to highlight the significant barrier police unions have become to police officer accountability. The true power of these unions is demonstrated by their consistent and often successful defense of some truly bad cops. Officers like the Metro Gang Strike ForceSherry Appledorn & Joe WillBeating of Derryl JenkinsShooting Death of Dominic Felder deserve to be pushed out of the police department before their behavior and attitudes result in such significant civil rights violations, not protected by their peers out of blind allegiance. Ultimately, more so than #pointergate, the unions’ successful lobbying to gut the Civilian Review Authority demonstrates why it is a real barrier to the public’s effort to hold bad police officers accountable.

Litigation cannot be the only check on bad cops’ conduct. Madia Law fully supports Mayor Hodges’ position on officer accountability and police-community relations. It is time to reverse the trend. Transparency is better for both police officers and citizens.

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Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure contains an interesting and nuanced option for civil defendants to settle a case. Rule 68 states in part, “At least 14 days before the date set for trial, a party defending against a claim may serve on an opposing party an offer to allow judgment on specified terms, with the costs then accrued.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 68(a). Essentially, the defendant may offer the plaintiff a settlement amount to try and end the case.

Here’s the catch for the defendant: if the plaintiff accepts the offer, judgment is entered against the defendant. Similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case, the defendant is admitting liability to avoid going to trial.

Minneapolis Discrimination Lawyers

 

Now, here’s the catch for the plaintiff: if the plaintiff does not accept the offer and takes the case to trial and the jury awards the plaintiff an amount in damages less than the defendant’s offer or no damages at all, the plaintiff must pay for all of the defendant’s costs that were incurred after the offer.

In other words, Fed.R.Civ.P. 68(d). Rule 68 seems to be a double-edged sword when not used strategically. [click to continue…]

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In an alarming video posted to YouTube this week, two St. Paul police officers violently arrested and tazed a black man who was simply waiting in the skyway to pickup his children from New Horizon’s Academy. The CityPages reports that the man is Chris Lollie; his mugshot is posted below.

Officers. M. Johnson and Bruce Schmidt filed a report that indicated Lollie had refused to leave the area; paradoxically, the report made no mention of why Lollie wasn’t allowed in the skyway. The officers inexplicably  charged Lollie with three crimes, all of which were dismissed. Based on the video and the available information, a lawsuit against the officers seems highly likely.

Madia Law, who does not represent Lollie, prosecutes lawsuits against police officers in Minnesota and Wisconsin who violate the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by performing unreasonable searches and seizures, unlawful arrests, or using excessive force.  Additionally, Madia Law holds government officials accountable for racism, sexism, sexual orientation discrimination, and more, by bringing suit for violations of the 14th Amendment.

See also: April 2012: Madia Law Wins Jury Trial in Federal Court for Excessive Force By St. Paul Police

See also: June 2014: Madia Law Jury Trial Verdict: Officer Violated 4th Amendment 

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Since the police shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old black male in Ferguson, Missouri last week, the town of 21,000 people has become a focal point in the country’s discussion of excessive force and police misconduct. Within days of the shooting, lawyers announced that they were looking at civil rights claims related to the shooting death. Then, reports of clashes between police and protestors demanding answers began flooding social media.

Midwest Civil Rights Attorneys

Attempts to cover the story by news outlets have proven difficult. Yesterday, two reporters were arrested for allegedly trespassing in a McDonald’s restaurant. They were subsequently released without being charged after the police chief learned that they were from the media. Police fired tear gas at reporters stationed at a roadside with camera and lighting equipment. New Yorker reporter Jelani Cobb provides a detailed account of her observations.

Imminent civil rights lawsuits are almost certain. Based on the reports, it appears likely that Ferguson Police may be subject to litigation in cases alleging violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, including allegations of excessive force, unreasonable search and seizure,  unlawful arrest, and deprivation of free speech and the freedom of the press.

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On June 24, 2014, after a two-day trial, a federal jury found that officer Robert Thunder violated Madia Law Client Michael Flowers’ constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Madia Law Attorney Ashwin Madia represented Mr. Flowers at trial, which was presided over by Chief Judge Michael Davis of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

MN Police Misconduct Lawyers

Mr. Flowers is a 51-year-old disabled black male who has Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (“AIDS”), a serious and potentially deadly condition that has an extreme effect on daily life activity and enables him to receive “limited mobility” designation on his Minnesota drivers license. A designation of “limited mobility” allows for reduced fare with Metro Transit.  [click to continue…]

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On Monday, Madia Law filed suit in United States District Court on behalf of Plaintiff Tammy Liddle against Bloomington Police Officer Jeff Thibert.  Ms. Liddle’s federal lawsuit (14-CV-431-JNE/JSM) alleges unreasonable search and seizure, unlawful arrest, and excessive force.  Ms. Liddle is also in possession of squad cam video of the subject incident.

Bloomington City Hall Bloomington City Hall

 

Below is a copy of the Complaint, with some names redacted: [click to continue…]

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The Stolen Lives Project determined that during the entire decade of the 1990’s, over 2000 deaths occurred at the hands of police officers.  Seven years ago, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Justice released a similar report that focused only on the years 2003 thru 2005.  That report indicated that over 2000 people died while being arrested by police officers during those three years alone, and that during each of those three years, the rate of such deaths increased by 13%.  There is also myriad evidence to indicate that police officer deaths at the hands of suspects is increasing at an alarming rate; for example, the FBI determined that from 2007 to 2008, the rate of officer deaths at the hands of suspects jumped 25%.

MInneapolis Civil Rights Attorneys

Although evidence indicates that lethal interactions between police and suspects are increasing, and although it is increasingly common for federal prosecutors to criminally target officers, it is still, overall, exceptionally rare for criminal charges to be filed against police.  Significant spikes in civil liability and lawsuits (i.e., New York, Las Vegas, Baltimore, Minneapolis) suggest that a closer look at police officers by prosecutors might be warranted. [click to continue…]

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One and a half years ago, DelShawn Crawford Sr. was shot and killed by Minneapolis police officers in his girlfriend’s home.  On behalf of Crawford’s estate, Madia Law has filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against two Minneapolis police officers, Laura Turner and Chad Meyer.  What follows is a summary of the allegations against the police officers in the Complaint filed on September 19 in United States District Court.

KMSP-TV

On May 12, 2012, Delshawn Crawford was spending a “family night” with his girlfriend Brandy Lewis, her children, her children’s friends, and cousins of Ms. Lewis.  At approximately 1:30 AM, following the family gathering, there were still seven individuals in Ms. Lewis’ home.  Mr. Crawford and Ms. Lewis engaged in a verbal argument; Ms. Lewis continued to clean the home while they were arguing. [click to continue…]

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently agreed to take a case that could potentially lead to the Badger State becoming only the second state to require a warrant before tracking an individual based on their cell phone.  In May, Montana enacted a bill that made them the first.  See H.B. 603, 63rd Leg., Reg. Sess. (Mont. 2013).

Wisconsin Civil Rights Attorneys

In June 2009, Milwaukee police obtained video surveillance of a suspect purchasing a cell phone before fatally shooting a man.  The police acquired the number of the cell phone and obtained a court order to track the phone’s physical location.  This tracking led the police to Bobby Tate, who they found wearing the same clothes of the suspect on the video and also blood-stained shoes containing the same DNA as that of the shooting victim.  Tate alleges that the police obtained evidence against him by violating his Fourth Amendment rights. [click to continue…]

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Increase in Minneapolis Police Misconduct Lawsuits: a Result of Failed Oversight?

June 18, 2013

A civilized society depends on a well-maintained police force dedicated to service and protection.  However, when officers stray from the duties sworn in their oath, the citizens must have some method of redress.  The current approach in Minneapolis ignores the importance of deterring unacceptable officer behavior and instead focuses on mitigating bad press and decreasing […]

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April 2013: $70,000 Settlement in Police Brutality Suit Against Minneapolis Officer

April 18, 2013

The ability to safely, calmly, and professionally interact with the public without violence is an intrinsic and basic part of law enforcement.  In a case settled this past Friday with the City of Minneapolis, Madia Law client Ernest Abbott alleged that on November 12, 2009, Minneapolis Police Officer Christopher Steward showed a lack of those […]

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Video Captures St. Paul Police Brutality

September 11, 2012

St. Paul Police Officer Jesse Zilge is at home this week, pending the results of an expedited internal affairs investigation.  Video uploaded to Youtube on August 28th shows Zilge kicking an unarmed man in what appears to be either the face, throat, or chest.  While the video clearly raises concern with regard to the officer’s […]

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Gutting of Police Review Authority Could Mean Increase in Lawsuits

August 2, 2012

The City of Minneapolis has paid out more than $15 million in the last six years for lawsuits alleging police misconduct. In a one-two punch that will mean the end of the Minneapolis Police Civilian Review Authority (CRA), the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota State Legislature are currently taking steps that will likely see […]

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Video Technology Helps Police … And Victims of Police Misconduct

July 3, 2012

Minnesota police departments, like many across the nation, are rapidly expanding their use of video technology by individual police officers. Gone is the day when officers were limited to using traditional COPS-style dash-cams to record what was happening directly in front of their police cruiser. Individual officers can now wear cameras on their heads, which allow them […]

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Off-Duty Minneapolis Police Officer Punches Man in Head

June 26, 2012

Minneapolis Police Sergeant David Clifford, 47, is the executive member of the SWAT team and a 19-year department veteran who has twice received the Medal of Valor. Last week, Clifford was charged with felony assault after he punched Brian Vander Lee in the head at Tanners Station in Andover. Clifford’s actions resulted in Vander Lee requiring life […]

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May 2012: Madia Law Launches New Website and Civil Rights Blog

May 22, 2012

Dear Friends, It’s been 3 years since Madia Law opened and I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to represent so many good and decent people going through tough times. I hope and believe that we’ve changed many lives for the better. Madia Law has taken on slumlords who subjected their tenants to awful living […]

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April 2012: Madia Law wins jury trial in federal court for excessive force against St. Paul Police Department

April 16, 2012

On September 26, 2009, Deshun Carter was barbequing in front of his house with his mother, father, and wife.  Two officers arrived and told him to turn down the music coming from his vehicle.  Carter immediately complied and told the officers that he was sorry for the music and wasting their time.  He identified himself […]

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May 2009: Introducing Madia Law

May 1, 2009

Dear Friends, I am excited to inform you that I am starting a new business venture, Madia Law LLC – a dynamic and aggressive law firm that will serve Minnesota individuals and small businesses.

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