How do I Prove Police Brutality?

Renee Booker

In order to prove police brutality, the plaintiff must first and foremost understand what the limits or guidelines are with regard to the use of force in the jurisdiction in question. To win the case, the plaintiff must convince a judge or jury that the police officer in question exceeded the amount of force allowable under the circumstances. Proving police brutality can be extremely difficult as the witnesses to the incident are frequently other police officers resulting in the plaintiff facing the blue wall of silence. A judge or jury will generally look at three things when determining if the officer overstepped his bounds: whether the plaintiff was resisting arrest and to what extent; was the plaintiff armed; and what force did the officer actually use to compel compliance by the plaintiff.

A plaintiff might have a hard time proving police brutality when other police are the primary witnesses.
A plaintiff might have a hard time proving police brutality when other police are the primary witnesses.

The definition of police brutality or excessive force can vary widely by jurisdiction. In some countries, use of force, even deadly force, is rarely questioned. Within the United States, there is not one clear definition of what constitutes excessive use of force. One possible definition looks to whether the officer reasonably believed the level of force used was necessary to accomplish a legitimate police purpose. The use of force is a highly subjective issue that is heavily dependent on every detail of the incident that gave rise to the need for force.

Police brutality may be physical and verbal.
Police brutality may be physical and verbal.

A claim against a police officer for police brutality will generally be investigated internally by the law enforcement agency itself before a plaintiff may file an actual court case. In many jurisdictions, this is a prerequisite to filing a formal complaint in a court. The internal affairs division will then do a thorough investigation and file its own report along with a conclusion as to whether the officer used excessive force or not. A conclusion that the officer did not commit police brutality does not prevent the plaintiff from pursuing the case in a court of law.

When force is used, the police officer will undoubtedly claim that the subject was resisting arrest. Any video or witness testimony to the contrary will help prove police brutality. If the subject was armed, then the police officer is almost always justified in using additional force, even if the subject does not actually use the weapon. The amount of force used by the police officer will be the biggest issue in the case and frequently the determining factor. Hospital reports, x-rays, photos of injuries, and, of course, witness testimony or video can be invaluable when proving that the amount of force actually used by an officer was unnecessary and amounts to police brutality.

Police brutality refers to the use of excessive force against another individual.
Police brutality refers to the use of excessive force against another individual.

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Discussion Comments


Hopefully, the video cameras that more and more police cars are being equipped with will continue to shine a spotlight on the way police officers do their jobs. I choose to believe that the majority of men and women in law enforcement are decent people who care about the jobs they do.

Maybe the video from some of these cameras will help to weed out most of the hot headed officers who should not be in the police department in the first place. Some of the police brutality captured on the videos is horrifying and difficult to watch, but hopefully this makes the bad officers think twice before abusing anyone.


I don't know that I have ever been a victim of police brutality per se, but I have definitely been a victim of police rudeness on several occasions. Some police officers think the uniforms they wear give them the right to do almost anything they want. They treat people like subjects rather than like the citizens who help pay their salaries, which is who we are.


All of the recent cases that have received so much publicity should be enough to convince us that not everything is in perfect order in terms of the way police officers interact with the citizens in the communities where they police.

I don't think that all cries of police brutality are legitimate. Some people are angry because they are being arrested, and they claim they were abused because they want to punish the cops who arrested them. Most of us understand this is a part of the way society works.

However, I am not naive enough to believe that police brutality does not exist. Unfortunately, as the article points out, the witnesses to the police brutality are usually other police officers who will not testify or criminals whose testimony does not carry much weight.

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