CIVIL RIGHTS AND POLICE MISCONDUCT
We’re trial lawyers. Our core competency – above everything else – is trying cases to juries. And we specialize in beating giants.
We’re trial lawyers. Our core competency – above everything else – is trying cases to juries. And we specialize in beating giants.
We represent victims of police brutality and excessive force in Minneapolis, St. Paul, the Twin Cities, greater Minnesota, and across the State of Wisconsin.
Almost all police officers are brave and outstanding public servants who do their jobs with courage and conviction every single day – we owe all of them an enormous debt of gratitude. Sometimes, however, officers abuse their authority and the trust we place in them, and hurt someone by beating them, macing them, tasing them, shooting them, or even killing them. That’s not right. No matter how difficult the job, no person has the right to use excessive force on someone else. Our free society depends on courageous people stepping forward to protect their Constitutional rights when they have been violated.
If you were wrongfully arrested, beaten, tased, or maced, you should know that you are protected by federal law and the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, which includes excessive force. A federal law called 42 U.S.C. 1983 prohibits the violation of constitutional rights by people acting under color of law, such as police officers.
If you have a family member that was shot and killed by police officers, first of all, we are so sorry for your loss and that you are in this position. Nothing that the law does or can do can ever come close to taking away your pain.
But please know that you are protected by U.S. Constitution. If your loved one was wrongfully shot by officers, then you have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C 1983, which allows citizens to sue the government for violations of civil rights.
Generally, officers will argue that they are protected by “qualified immunity” for their actions. That means that, in order to recover, plaintiffs need to show more than the officers were just negligent or didn’t do their job properly. Instead, plaintiffs must show that the officers knowingly violated an established constitutional right.
In shooting cases, that generally means demonstrating that the officers knew they were dealing with someone who did not pose a threat to themselves or others, but the officers opened fire anyway. For example, if officers know that a suspect they are dealing with is unarmed, handcuffed, or otherwise doesn’t pose a threat, but the officers shoot the suspect anyway, they will have a very difficult time arguing that their actions are protected by qualified immunity.
If you have been the victim of police brutality, you may be entitled to damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, punitive damages, and your attorney fees and costs.
Police Shooting results in $1.5 million settlement.
Mark Henderson was a hostage held at gunpoint in a room at the Woodbury Red Roof Inn on August 30, 2012. He fled the room and approached Woodbury police officers with his hands raised. He complied with their commands to get on the ground. As he lay unarmed in a prone position approximately 10-12 feet in front of them, the officers shouted conflicting and contradictory commands that even they couldn’t hear or understand. Within seconds, they opened fire and killed him.
Henderson’s family brought a lawsuit against the officers and Woodbury in August 2015. The officers argued that the doctrine of qualified immunity protected their actions. The doctrine of qualified immunity basically says that, in order to be liable for their actions, officers need to knowingly violate an established constitutional right – negligence is not enough. They argued that Henderson didn’t comply with their command to show his hands, and while on the ground, he made a “blading” movement toward them that justified his shooting.
In November 2016, Woodbury brought a motion for summary judgment, asking the district court to dismiss the Henderson family’s case because the officers were protected by qualified immunity. In February 2017, the district court granted Woodbury’s motion and dismissed the case.
We thought the district court erred by not considering crucial evidence, including the officers’ statements from the night of the shooting, where at least one officer admitted that Henderson complied with all officer commands. So we appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In November 2018, the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s opinion and held that the case should go to a jury trial. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court erred by failing to consider the officers’ statements from the night of the shooting, and that a jury could rely on those statements to conclude that Mark complied with officer commands, but was shot and killed anyway.
In April 2019, just weeks before trial, Woodbury settled with Henderson’s family for almost $1.5 million – the full amount of insurance policy limits.
We were honored to represent the Henderson family.
Public accommodations discrimination suit under Minnesota Human Rights Act gets $150,000 settlement.
Michael Jointer went to the MegaMall to return 2 Columbia jackets that he purchased. Bloomington police officers on duty stopped him in the mall and asked him for his identification, because they thought he looked like a known shoplifter who had been trespassed, another African-American male named James Combs. Jointer produced his drivers license, which showed that he wasn’t Combs.
That wasn’t good enough for the officers. They ran warrant checks on Jointer. The checks came back clean. That still wasn’t good enough for them.
So they asked to search Jointer’s shopping bag. Jointer allowed them to do so. The officers found no contraband or shoplifted items. But that still wasn’t good enough – they asked for Jointer’s receipts for the jackets. He provided them and they matched. That still wasn’t good enough.
The officers then made Jointer walk with them back into Columbia so they could verify his purchases with the store manager. Only after the store manager confirmed that everything was in order did the officers release Jointer. The total length of their stop of Jointer was 6 minutes.
When we first brought the case, Bloomington offered $5,000 to settle. After we deposed the officers and showed how contradictory their explanations were, Bloomington settled the case for $150,000.
We were honored to represent Michael.
It varies by claim, but generally it’s 6 years in Minnesota.
Document everything. Write down exactly what happened after it happens, when it’s fresh in your mind. Get the police report – you can get that easily by just going to the police department and asking for it. If you had any medical treatment as a result of injuries suffered because of police misconduct, make sure to get the hospital records, too. Have a friend take photographs of any injuries that you suffered. To the extent that you can, write down a list of witnesses who saw what happened, along with their contact information. We’ll use that to get a hold of them quickly and get statements. Also, immediately contact the police department (in writing or email) and tell them that you believe you were the victim of police brutality and that you’d like them to preserve any video that exists of the incident. This puts them on notice to preserve the evidence, and if they delete it, you can get an adverse inference instruction to the jury that the officers destroyed evidence that was likely favorable to you.
A trustee for your loved one’s “next of kin” can bring the suit. The trustee can be anyone, but is usually his spouse (if he was married), his kids, his parents, or even his siblings. There is a statutory process to have the next of kin appointed as Trustee. The Trustee then brings the lawsuit on behalf of the deceased’s next of kin. If and when there is a settlement or jury verdict, the Trustee proposes a distribution of the funds amongst the next of kin, but the Court makes the final determination as to how much each family member gets.
This depends on a lot of things. First, the most important variable is the strength of liability: can we prove that police officers broke the law? Are there witnesses or videos of what happened? And can we show that the officers knowingly violated your constitutional right? Second, if your case is strong on liability, the next variable is damages – how were you injured by what happened? Both federal and state law allow you to recover for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and wage loss damages. You can also seek punitive damages and attorney fees and costs. Third, the value of your case depends on your risk tolerance. If you’re willing to wait for payment, proceed through litigation all the way up to and through trial, then your case is worth a lot more than someone who has a much lower risk tolerance and wants payment soon.
We have a process that works in getting exceptional results for our clients.
We are trial lawyers who prepare every case for trial from Day 1. Investigation and legal research are the first things we do, and we spend a lot of time on them. Because we haven’t filed the case yet, we have complete control – the defendant has no say and we want to use this time wisely. We interview witnesses that can help us prove the case. We’ll ask you for all relevant documents in your possession and review those carefully as well. We also will spend some time conducting legal research about unique issues in the case. We pull the jury instructions that the judge will ultimately charge the jury with after closing arguments at trial.
Our next step is typically to send a demand letter to the defendant. In the letter, we thoroughly lay out: the facts surrounding the defendant’s misconduct; the applicable law (including statutory and case citations) that make clear that the defendant broke the law; an analysis of your damages and the defendant’s monetary exposure; a demand for a monetary amount to settle the claim; and an instruction to preserve all relevant evidence, including electronic evidence. The point of this letter is to give the defendant a chance to do the right thing and pay a fair amount before litigation, and to give the defendant an opportunity to present any defenses or evidence it wants us to consider before moving forward. Sometimes we skip the demand letter if there are strategic reasons to move straight to filing, but we typically give defendants a chance to do the right thing.
If early negotiations fail, great – we file a Complaint and serve the defendant with it. A Complaint is a legal document that states the facts of what happened and alleges how the defendant broke the law. It formally starts the lawsuit. Many lawyers draft complaints in a general and relatively vague way, just to get it done and filed – because that’s all that’s really required. We take a different view. We view the Complaint as our first chance to tell your story to the judge, and we take it seriously. So we draft detailed complaints and include legal citations to statutory and judicial authority on unique points. Sometimes we’ll include a number of exhibits, diagrams, or other demonstrative aids to help the Court understand our claims. A secondary benefit of this approach is that defense lawyers reading the Complaint can become educated on the problems of their case and the state of the law – sometimes this leads them to reach out to us shortly after service of the Complaint to re-initiate settlement negotiations. Of course, by that time, the price for settlement has gone up.
Some lawyers view written discovery as a necessary evil – something to get done and out of the way before depositions. Not us. Written discovery is a gift and an opportunity. We spend a great deal of time crafting requests for documents and interrogatories (questions for the defendant to answer in writing) that are specific, detailed, and tailored to get what we need to prove our case. Many lawyers – even great ones – think written discovery is a waste of time because defense lawyers typically answer them on behalf of their clients and can try to stonewall with legalese and objections. We view this as a wonderful opportunity. In our experience, most defense lawyers can’t help themselves when answering discovery: they over-state their defenses and make assertions that their clients will not be able to support in testimony. So we get to commit the defendant to defenses that they can’t back up, leading to contradictions, confusion, and chaos in their depositions later on. We also use Requests for Admission – which many lawyers don’t. The Federal Rules and Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure allow us to ask defendants to “admit” certain facts. We send them RFAs that are very difficult for them to deny. Of course, they do it anyway, but that sets them up later for cost and fee-shifting, which the Rules mandate for defendants that deny RFAs that are later proven true. And usually, we can get the defendants’ own witnesses to admit facts that their defense lawyers denied in RFA. That’s a great situation that leads to more chaos and confusion on the defense side.
One last point on written discovery – we send multiple waves of it throughout discovery. We typically send 3 or 4 sets of written discovery requests to defendants throughout discovery. This compounds the problems for them, because the defense lawyers continue to overstate their defenses, but now run into contradictions from not just the defendant witnesses’ deposition testimony, but also their own previous discovery responses. This makes for a great record that we can present to the judge at dispositive motions, and use for impeachment at trial.
This is our chance to question relevant witnesses, on the record with a court reporter (we typically videotape important depositions as well). We get to confront the defense witnesses with all of the evidence we’ve developed through written discovery and document production. By this time, the defendant put its witnesses in an impossible position through its written defenses, which are often untrue and indefensible. So the witness has to either lie to support the defense, or admit it’s not true. That’s a dilemma that works for our clients either way, no matter which option the witness takes. We use depositions to expose contradictions, create a record for dispositive motions, lock witnesses into their stories so that we can impeach them later at trial, and sometimes, to show defense lawyers how hopeless their case is. We often calls from defense counsel shortly after depositions of their clients, seeking to re-start settlement negotiations.
The defendant will usually make a motion for summary judgment after discovery, asking the Court to throw out the case without having a jury trial. Because we’ve hit discovery so hard – both through written discovery and depositions – this is a tough motion for defense counsel to write in our cases. We draft our response for the Court and now get to bring everything together: the admissions, contradictions, nonsense, and obvious fact disputes that we’ve uncovered through discovery. We tell a compelling story that wraps everything together for the Court and makes clear that the defense motion has to be denied, and the defendant needs to face a jury for its conduct.
Sometimes, we’ll even make an affirmative motion for summary judgment, asking the Court to grant judgment in favor of our client without a trial. These motions are generally rare for plaintiffs to make, because the defendant can usually point to some fact dispute on its intent or some other factor that necessitates a trial. But we make affirmative summary judgment motions significantly more than is typical for plaintiffs, and that’s because the work we put in during discovery helps build a fantastic record to do so.
After the Court denies the defense motion for summary judgment, the defendant has only 2 options: 1) do the right thing and pay you a fair amount to our client to settle your claim (usually much, much more at this point than the defendant could have paid at the beginning of the case to settle); or 2) face a jury for its conduct and risk an enormous verdict. This is the dilemma that we have been creating and forcing the defendant into for the entire case. We’ll engage in settlement negotiations at this point from a position of extreme strength, mainly because most defendants are (rightly) terrified of facing a jury to defend their conduct.
This is, candidly, our favorite part of the case – why we went to law school: to hold the powerful accountable before juries. We prepare heavily for trial, including: detailed witness preparation, focus groups, and mock trials. At this point, the potential outcomes and consequences for the defendant are much more severe than if it simply did the right thing at the beginning of the case and paid a fair amount to compensate our client for its misconduct. As we advocate to the jury for our client, we’re also mindful of protecting the record so that defendants will be unsuccessful in attacking the verdict in post-trial motions or appeal.