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Police Brutality in NYC: Understanding the Different Levels of Force Allowed

Unfortunately, the number of alleged cases of New York City police misconduct and brutality have risen in recent years, although this trend unfolded after a period of greater stability. In some ways, everyone is now on edge. Citizens are afraid that even the slightest misstep could result in the use of excessive force that might result in death. And when residents are worried about their safety, they’re far less likely to report some crimes or report witnessing dangerous events in their neighborhoods.

What exactly constitutes excessive force? Stated simply, it’s using more force in a situation than what was necessary or justified under all the circumstances involved. This standard requires a certain degree of flexibility since police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the level of harm a suspect may suddenly inflict, especially if s/he appears to be armed. 

When people allege excessive force in lawsuits against the police, they usually claim that their Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution have been violated. These lawsuits are then normally filed under 42 U. S. Code Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871.


Case law and statutes continue to evolve from older cases that held the police accountable

Older cases like Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), helped establish the proper standard for evaluating the level of force that can be used. In the Garner case, the suspect was shot in the head while he was running from a house that he had just burglarized. The Supreme Court ruled that excessive, deadly force was used in that case and then noted what type of circumstances must be present to justify the use of such force. 

Briefly summarized, the Court held that a police officer must have probable cause to believe that the only way to protect himself/herself (and others) under the circumstances – against deadly harm that might be inflicted by the suspect – is to use deadly force. 


What other weapons or degrees of force can be used – before considering deadly force?

It’s important to remember that police officers often have other courses of action they can take before drawing a deadly weapon and shooting a suspect. They should first try to call out to the fleeing person, asking him/her to stop so that it won’t be necessary to shoot. If the suspect is within arm’s length, a police office is justified in using limited bodily force to subdue the person and place him/her in handcuffs to help effect an arrest. 

Here’s a closer look at some of the other less lethal ways that the police can try and stop a suspect without using excessive force.

  • An officer can use a properly trained police dog. This animal can be released to chase after and stop the suspect until the police can catch up and then arrest the person;
  • A police baton can be carefully used. This can help subdue a suspect, although any type of excessive beating is always forbidden;
  • A chemical spray like mace can be used. Once a suspect is temporarily blinded by this type of spray, s/he is far less likely to keep fighting with police;
  • A taser gun can be carefully used in some circumstances. As is briefly noted below, taser guns may sometimes cause serious medical events like heart attacks. They should only be used if the officer doesn’t have a less punishing weapon available;
  • Chokeholds. This type of physical restraint was banned by the NYPD back during the early 1990s.  However, some officers have kept using these under what they’ve considered to be extreme cases. Most New Yorkers will never forget the tragic outcome that occurred when a chokehold was used in the well-known Eric Garner case on Staten Island. 

Fortunately, in September of 2019, a new piece of legislation was finally introduced to put a complete stop to the use of often deadly chokeholds. Sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblyman Walter Mosely, this proposed law is entitled,  The “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold” bill

This proposed legislation is finally moving forward five years after Mr. Garner’s death.  Supporters are urging the federal government to pass similar legislation that would be binding across the country. The officer who used the deadly chokehold on Mr. Garner was fired by the NYPD during the latter part of 2019. However, that cop is now suing to try and get his job back. Given all the circumstances surrounding Mr. Garner’s death, this new lawsuit faces an uphill battle for success.


How safe are taser guns?

Given the lack of well-established standards for the proper use of taser guns, their safety largely depends on how hard each police officer works to learn how to carefully use one.

Among other groups who have addressed this important safety issue is the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union. Since taser guns can cause rather intense, though often transitory pain, the ACLU suggests that officers avoid using these weapons on the following, especially fragile groups of suspects. 

  1. The elderly and young teens (or children);
  2. Pregnant women;
  3. Any suspect who has already been restrained with handcuffs or other means;
  4. Any person who has recently been sprayed with mace or some other high-powered substance;
  5. A suspect who is currently positioned in a manner that could easily lead to a fall or other type of immediate harm. For example, an officer should never reach into any running vehicle and try to apply a taser gun to the driver.

Before any taser gun is used, suspects should be given a verbal warning. Hopefully, they’ll choose to cooperate with police prior to such force being used against them. Finally, all suspects who have recently endured the use of a taser gun should be carefully examined by appropriate police medical personnel – prior to booking — to be sure they aren’t suffering any lasting harm.

Contact the Police Brutality Attorneys at Frekhtman & Associates

If you’ve been seriously injured due to police brutality – or have lost a close family member due to this type of event – you need to contact our New York City police brutality law firm.

We know how to properly handle all types of police misconduct cases and we’ll carefully investigate the facts of your case. We’ll fight hard to win the maximum compensation available, so you’ll fully recover for all your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other losses.