Lawsuits Against Police

By Dee Wampler

In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Graham vs. Connor[1] the US Supreme Court considered a civil rights lawsuit under 42 USC Sec. 1983 (a 1983 lawsuit) where plaintiffs claimed that a police officer used excessive force in making a stop in violation of their secured to him under the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Court considered an old test to determine whether the officers had acted “maliciously and sadistically” known as the Glick Test. [2]

The Court abandoned the Glick Test.  The new test is whether officers used excessive force – deadly or not – in the course of an arrest or other seizure of a citizen should be properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendments “objective reasonableness” standard.  It must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene which embody allow for an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split – second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Previous decisions discuss whether a police officer use of force would “shock the conscience” [3]

Remember that the 4th Amendment guarantees citizens the right “to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable seizures”.

Courts will not look at the officer’s “evil intentions” nor will the officer’s good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional.  The question is whether the officer’s actions were “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him without regard to their underlining intent or motivation[4].

[1] 490 US 386 (1989)

[2] 481 F2d 1028 (1973)

[3] Rochin vs. California, 342 US 165 (1952)

[4] Scott vs. United States, 436 US 128 (1978); Terry vs. Ohio, 392 US 1 (1968)