About Section 1983 and lawsuits involving police brutality

"Skokie Police Officer Michael Hart outside the Leighton Criminal Courts building after being released in lieu of $75,000 bail on Wednesday. (WGN-TV)"

“Skokie Police Officer Michael Hart outside the Leighton Criminal Courts building after being released in lieu of $75,000 bail on Wednesday. (WGN-TV)”

Skokie police officer, Michael Hart, was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct after he was caught on video shoving a woman into a cell bench. According to the Chicago Tribune article, “Hart pushed Cassandra Feuerstein so hard that it broke her eye socket, cut her cheek and loosened her teeth.[i]” The article further notes that Feuerstein needed reconstructive surgery to place a titanium plate in her cheek. She also has facial numbness and vision troubles after the incident. Whether Officer Hart used excessive force is a matter for the court that may, under the circumstances, find that Hart’s force was unreasonable. If Feuerstein is proved a victim of excessive force by officer Hart, she could recover damages under “Section 1983,” the law designed to protect the rights of all Americans by the 14th Amendment, which allows a victim to file a lawsuit in federal court for police brutality.

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code is part of the civil rights act of 1871. Section 1983, provides that: “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.[ii]

Consider a few highlights and key elements of a Section 1983 case where money damages are the available relief for civil rights violations against persons by the state[iii].

The common types of police brutality include excessive force, racial slurs and lethal force. In a case involving malicious police actions, any person within the United States can sue a government official when they’ve been deprived their constitutional rights. The Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures applies to an officer touching you with hands, bullets or tasers. The Fifth Amendment applies to interrogations and Miranda rights. The 14th Amendment applies to race based slurs and verbal abuse.

Plaintiffs who sue for money damages under Section 1983 file complaints for police brutality, depending on the circumstances, against law enforcement officers individually, the city and county departments who employed the police, and even the mayor of the city where the incident occurred. These cases are complicated and there are a variety of legal defenses and challenges to the complaints filed by plaintiffs who claim they are victims of police brutality and their constitutional rights were violated in the incidents underlying their claims.

If you are a victim of police brutality or you want to learn more about your rights and the law, the attorneys at the Fox Valley Law Center Ltd. are here to answer y your questions. Feel free to stop by the office, conveniently located on the second floor of the Westfield Fox Valley Mall in Aurora. You can also call ahead to make an appointment to talk to a family law attorney by dialing 630-236-2222. Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for up to date news in the law and issues that matter. For a list of legal practice areas please visit our website.

[i] Chicago Tribune: Charges filed against Skokie officer in videotaped jail cell incident. By Rosemary Regina Sobol and Robert McCoppin. Oct. 31, 2013.

[ii] “Section 1983” 42 U.S.C. § 1983

[iii] FindLaw: Police Brutality Lawsuits and Section 1983. By Brett Snider, May 14, 2013.


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