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Policing the Police: A Victim’s Recourse When Police Power is Abused

Incidents of abusive police tactics have been all over the news lately. Often these stories prompt the reader to ask questions like, “What if that happened to me?” and “What kind of recourse can an individual victim have against an entire police force?” More often than not, the answers to these questions lie in the field of personal injury law. A civil rights lawsuit was filed in Paterson, NJ last month in response to an incident of police abuse that occurred outside a sports bar in September 2011. A group of uniformed police officers were caught on video beating and kicking a handcuffed man named Alexis Aponte. Aponte had been embroiled in a bar brawl when an ununiformed cop attempted to break it up, and Aponte responded by threatening him. What followed was three minutes of a brutal beat down involving a large number of police officers, some with up to 18 years of experience on the force.The lawsuit includes a second plaintiff, Miguel Rivera, who was also involved in the fight and was similarly cuffed and beaten unconscious by the officers, just off-camera. Aponte and Rivera’s attorney alleges that over $900 was stolen from the two men additionally. The full video of the incident can be found here.Even more recently, in Hawthorne California, a man named Leon Rosby bore witness to an officer shooting his dog to death after Rosby was cuffed for playing music too loud outside a police standoff. The officers had asked Rosby to turn his music down, and when he did not immediately comply, they arrested him. Rosby locked his dog inside of his car and offered his open hands to the police for arrest.  But when his dog leapt out of the window to protect his owner, one of the officers pulled out his gun and fired four shots, killing the dog in front of Rosby’s eyes. Here is the link to the graphic and disturbing video.Granted, these stories are rarely as simple as black and white. Aponte and Rivera were involved in a bar fight and Rosby had blatantly disregarded a police officer’s command. Police work is dangerous, difficult business, but just like any other profession it needs to be regulated. Police officers who cross the line have to be held accountable for their actions, and police forces are notoriously bad at self-regulating. That’s why Congress passed US Code Section 1983, a law that allows individuals to seek damages when they are made victims of police abuse. Because of this law, it is often personal injury lawyers who draw the line in cases of police abuse, and hold abusive cops liable for their actions. Police abuse is an unfortunate and all too common occurrence in the US, but it is important to remember that every individual has a right and a viable means to fight back.  Sources: LA Times, “Video of Hawthorne police killing sparks web protests” July 2, “Video of Paterson police kicking, dragging handcuffed suspect leads to federal suit” June 30 2013.

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