Deaths that occur during the arrest, transport, and detention of alleged criminals have brought civil unrest to communities that are particularly vulnerable to these events. Residents see questionable deaths of unarmed suspects—without subsequent criminal charges against law enforcement officers—and feel powerless to change practices that deny them of their basic rights.
When governments are complacent and prefer to maintain the status quo, civil litigation, resulting in large financial settlements paid to victims, may be the catalyst for change.
What are the circumstances of these deaths?
Death can occur at each stage of the process of arrest and detention of a suspect. These stages include the following:
Deaths that occur during arrests usually involve resistance of some sort by the suspect. Death can come from a deliberate act, such as an officer shooting a suspect during an altercation, or from an underlying health issue that is aggravated during a struggle between the arresting officers and the suspect.
Prisoners are transported in a caged vehicle with their hands cuffed behind them. Some vehicles have seat belts that keep prisoners from falling from the flat bench seats inside the vehicle, while others may be equipped with concave seats that provide a more secure seating and a strap that can be held from behind if the vehicle swerves or stops suddenly.
Prisoners that have been combative or difficult while being arrested may find themselves the recipient of a "rough ride," during which the operator of a transport vehicle deliberately drives erratically while leaving the prisoner's seat belt undone. Injuries and deaths can occur as the suspect is tossed around in a metal cage with their arms cuffed behind them.
Suicides sometimes occur in holding cells with suspects that have no history of mental illness and have been arrested for minor infractions. Security cameras cannot prevent these occurrences, because they are not used inside cells because of privacy concerns. Only frequent scheduled physical checks can hope to thwart suicides.
Why can't criminal charges prevent these deaths?
Unless a suspect is running away and is shot in the back, and the incident is caught on video, criminals convictions are rare. A law enforcement officer is forced to make an instant decision if they believe that their life or the lives of others are in danger during a struggle with a suspect, so if malice is not proven, the officer must be assumed innocent of a criminal act.
The concept of deliberately harming a prisoner during transport cannot be proven in a criminal court. Different jurisdictions have individual policies on securing prisoners, and some departments have no mandates about such actions. Law enforcement officers can be injured by biting, kicking, or head-butting suspects inside the closed confines of a transport vehicle, so some departments don't require officers to enter the vehicles.
Suicides in holding cells are seen as virtually unpreventable in a resourceful prisoner. Security operations focus more on the prisoners' activities outside of the cells, and the protection of suspects from other prisoners.
How can civil litigation change these practices?
Unlike in criminal court, in which criminal penalties are given and proof of guilt must be established, civil courts award monetary compensation for deaths or injuries that may have been prevented through alternative choices by law enforcement officers or bureaucratic policies that allow unsafe practices to continue after multiple deaths have occurred.
The millions of dollars that personal injury attorneys have already won for the victims of these practices have already led to changes in police training and policies. Some larger jurisdictions are in the process of installing body cameras on law enforcement officers. While this was previously seen as prohibitively expensive, it now seems like a bargain compared to million-dollar lawsuits. For further information about this type of litigation, contact a personal injury attorney.Share
15 September 2015
When I was a child, my father was the pastor of a small evangelical church in my hometown. I always enjoyed going to church in order to play with my friends. One of these friends suffered a horrific accident at a local gas station one day. As he was walking towards the entrance to the gas station, he was struck by a vehicle. His leg was seriously injured during the accident. To help with the expenses of recovery, his father hired an accident and personal injury attorney. This professional helped my friend’s father sue the person who struck his son. On this blog, you will discover the advantages of hiring an accident and personal injury attorney after incurring injuries from a devastating accident.