Providing Comprehensive Police Officer Defense In Civil Rights Lawsuits
If you’re a police officer sued individually for a civil rights violation, after you sit down and take some deep breaths, determine if you have legal insurance. If you are a member of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO), the Police Benevolence Association (PBA), the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) or other similar organizations, you may have coverage for defense of a civil lawsuit.
Some plans will allow you to select your own attorney while others will not, but police officer defense has been a passion at Tidwell & Associates for over 40 years. Founding attorney Jerry Tidwell does civil rights lawsuit defense work for all three of these organizations as well as on behalf of some governmental agencies (such as cities or counties) that employ officers. Some employers will provide coverage for a police officer’s defense in specific circumstances.
Guiding You Every Step Of The Way
Do not worry about any astronomically large amount of money named in the lawsuit. Ignore this. The amount of money asked for in a lawsuit is often unrelated to the reality of the event that generated the lawsuit. The person filing the lawsuit is likely asking for an astronomical number to try to scare you into settling. They are certainly trying to intimidate you. Don’t let them.
While you don’t have to have an attorney, this is a very specific area of the law that few attorneys know well, let alone non-attorneys. There are defenses that can help get you out of the suit before it goes to trial. One of the hot topics is the defense of qualified immunity, which is currently the subject of political and judicial debate. Understanding how qualified immunity works and watching how current trends impact it is part of what we do every day. There are other types of immunity that may apply as well. Having an experienced attorney in this area of law will benefit you.
How You Can Help Your Own Defense
Gather every document related to the event that is available. This includes:
- Affidavit of complaints
- Arrest warrants
- Incident reports
- Use of force reports
- CAD traffic
- Internal affairs report including statements
- Autopsy report where there has been a death
Be sure your body camera, dash camera and in-car camera footage along with the same items from any other officer on the scene are all preserved. Remember that if the plaintiff has gotten a dismissal of any charges brought, those documents could be expunged and lost forever. We will help with this effort and lead the way if needed but quick action is required and a lawyer may not be assigned for a week or more to the case. It takes longer sometimes. Be your own best investigator and use your training to gather evidence from day one.
Stay off of social media about your case. This is an absolute. Ignore anything people have to say about the case, regardless of how it makes you feel. Do not talk to any media outlet without talking to your lawyer. Some court rules prohibit any public statements outside of what is in the pleadings filed with the court. It is alright to discuss the case with your spouse or parents but end it there. Nothing can be taken out of context and used against you if you are silent.
Do not text or email about the case without talking to your lawyer. Your professional and personal email and cell phones are subject to discovery. Everything in them is subject to review that is relevant to the case. All the texts, all the emails, all the social media posts and messages are open game for the opposition.