False arrests and imprisonment by police–“police misconduct”—are nothing new. And such incidents are not as unusual as the public would prefer to believe, evidenced by the rash of reported false arrests and imprisonment by police in recent news.
In a recent case, police falsely arrested a man, Guillermo Torres, who they believed to be a homicide suspect. Although Torres didn’t fit the description of the suspect which was provided by a supposed eye witness to the homicide, he was arrested anyway in the presence of his young children.
Torres voluntarily submitted his fingerprints to police and allowed them to take his DNA while police had no evidence against him. Nevertheless, he was subsequently incarcerated in a Los Angeles jail, and his bail was set at $2 million, a bond impossible for him to pay.
While in jail, the innocent Torres, who had no previous criminal history, suffered an emotional breakdown, which resulted in hospitalization. When the police finally checked his fingerprints against a database and tested his DNA, they discovered that Torres wasn’t the right homicide suspect.
Only after 18 days of false imprisonment, was he finally released from jail. The false arrest and imprisonment caused Torres severe anguish, embarrassment, post-traumatic stress, loss of wages, a diminished reputation and other life problems because of the egregious misconduct of law enforcement. Torres’ tragic experience was a clear violation of his Constitutional rights, and there is a case currently pending against the officer who arrested him and the police department that employs him.
For an arrest to be legal, there must be “probable cause.” In other words, facts and evidence must be available that would lead a reasonable person to assume that a crime has been committed. But in Torres case, though the police had zero “probable cause,” they ignored this critical law.
Unfortunately, while it’s the responsibility of police to maintain public safety, some officers unlawfully exceed the limits of their power and violate individuals’ constitutional rights. For instance, when a person is arrested because they were mistaken for someone else, they may have a legitimate case for false arrest. Also, when a police officer arrests someone who has not committed a crime simply to harass them, this is definitively false arrest.
Attorney DeSimone and his team recently went to trial against the LAPD where it was his client’s word against four Los Angeles Police Department Officers. The jury determined the Officer’s were negligent in handcuffing the wrong person for two hours and provided for $175,000.00 in compensation. DeSimone also prevailed in trial against Walgreen’s security resulting in the a $2.1 million verdict, the largest ever for a wrongful arrest resulting in one night in jail.
Police Miscondut Has Historial Roots.
Since the first Los Angeles police department formed in 1853, ostensibly to protect the public, corruption has been inherent among too many officers and has historically gone unchecked.
Albert Bernard de Russailh, a French essay writer who traveled to California in the mid-1800s wrote:
“The police force is largely made up of ex-bandits, and naturally the members are interested above all in saving their old friends from punishment. Policemen here are quite as much to be feared as the robbers; if they know you have money, they will be the first to knock you on the head. You pay them well to watch over your house, and they set it on fire. In short, I think that all the people concerned with justice or the police are in league with the criminals.”
During the early to late 1800s, Los Angeles was known for its incidents of extreme violence and was reputed to have the highest murder rate nationwide. Citizens roamed the streets with pistols and knives and used lynching as the primary means to kill perceived lawbreakers.
Because Los Angeles was striving toward progress and most wanted to live in peaceful communities, something had to be done to establish order. Thus, a formal police force was created. Still, well over a century later, police misconduct against citizens and other people has continued to be an ongoing problem.
Federal Civil Rights Law Protects our Rights.
“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…” https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2010-title42/html/USCODE-2010-title42-chap21-subchapI-sec1983.htm
Section 1983 is intended to protect the civil rights of all persons in the United States and furnish the means for vindication. Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 98 (1945)
“A Section 1983 plaintiff may establish municipal liability in one of three ways. First, the plaintiff may prove that a city employee committed the alleged constitutional violation pursuant to a formal governmental policy or a “longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the ‘standard operating procedure’ of the local governmental entity.” Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737, 109 S.Ct. 2702, 2723, 105 L.Ed.2d 598 (1989) (internal quotation omitted); accord Monell, 436 U.S. at 690–91. Second, the plaintiff may establish that the individual who committed the constitutional tort was an official with “final policy-making authority” and that the challenged action itself thus constituted an act of official governmental policy. See Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480–81, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 1298–99. Third, the plaintiff may prove that an official with final policy-making authority ratified a subordinate’s unconstitutional decision or action and the basis for it. See City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988).” Gillette, 979 F. 2d 1342, 1346-7.
For “vindication” or justice when 24 USC Section 1983 is violated by police, federal law enables people to sue in federal court as follows:
However, the problem has always been that when police engage in false arrests, such misconduct must be proven before they can be held liable. And that has always been challenging.
Today, it may not be nearly as difficult to prove false arrest as well as other forms of police misconduct. And while police misconduct has mostly gone unpunished over the past 166 years for lack of proof—the only “proof” typically has been the arrested person’s word against an officer—with the advent of body cams and video recording cell phones, when false arrests occur today, these incidents are increasingly being documented.
What’s more, with the January 2019 passage of California Senate Bill 1421, police departments are required by law to release records of officers who are suspected to or have engaged in on-duty misconduct. Until SB 1421 was passed, the public was not entitled to access the information necessary to hold officers accountable for their misconduct.
Now with the aid of technology and access to officer’s records, a falsely arrested and incarcerated person has a greater opportunity to hold police wrongdoers accountable and monetarily liable for the harm they’ve committed.
If you’ve been falsely arrested and/or incarcerated, you may be entitled to financial compensation for direct financial losses you incurred, attorney fees and punitive damages against the police officer who harmed you. While you may be concerned that it’s the officer’s word against yours, you may now have considerable evidence for what historically may have been impossible to prove.
The V. James DeSimone attorney team takes civil rights’ violations very seriously. After we evaluate your unique situation and accept your case, we’ll utilize our over 30 years of skills and the resources required to prove you were unlawfully arrested and/or incarcerated. As vigilant fighters for our falsely arrested clients, we’ll maximize efforts to achieve justice and fair compensation for the wrong done to you.
For a free case evaluation to determine if your civil rights were violated, call today at 310-693-5561 to schedule a meeting with a V. James DeSimone lawyer who will respectfully listen to what happened and discuss your options.
Attorney V. James DeSimone is a 35+ year experienced civil rights & employment lawyer in Southern California. Jim is a Super Lawyer, Rated “Superb” by Avvo, and is a US News & World Report Best Law Firm in California.
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