Lawsuits Against LEOs: Further Plaintiff Sayeth Naught!

When I was on patrol, I was always amused when the news reported on an incident that I responded to or handled. Many times, I remember telling my wife that the report had little to do with what happened on the scene. However, I must admit those news reports were often more interesting! Such is often the case when you first read a lawsuit filed against you.

When you read the lawsuit, you will hear some legal language at the beginning. This language usually relates to jurisdiction of the court. Next you will find a set of paragraphs that set out the facts of the lawsuit. Like those news stories I referenced earlier, you may disagree with the facts. Disagree may be a strange choice of words. The facts set out in the lawsuit may, in fact, set you off! I have pulled LEOs off the ceiling when they read the facts set out in a lawsuit! My goal in this article is to, well, keep you away from your ceiling fan!

There are a few reasons why the facts set out in a lawsuit are not the same facts you recall or the those set out in your incident report. First, the lawyers get the facts from their client who is known as the plaintiff. Need I say more? Yes, I am saying that the guy you arrested at a .24 is entitled to file the lawsuit based upon his recollection of what happened. Second, the client tells his lawyer what he remembers. Anyone who has worked a car wreck knows that every version of the facts will be slightly different. In fact, Georgia juries are told that they must make every effort to reconcile different versions of events by witnesses without assuming a witness is lying. Finally, one reason the facts in the lawsuit are far from what you remember is that your incident report did not properly document the events. Enough said.

The rest of the lawsuit contains the legal reasons for the suit, such as allegations of excessive force or wrongful death and a prayer for relief. The prayer can include a request for money and attorney fees. Some lawsuits vary, but essentially these parts set out what the plaintiff says you did wrong and why he should win in court.

The lesson to learn here is that you must remain calm. I am working with a LEO right now defending a suit in which the plaintiff left out a critical point in his “facts.” That critical point is the reason for the traffic stop. That’s pretty important if I was paying attention in the academy and law school! Whether you are accused of arresting a person without probable cause, excessive force or driving the getaway Bronco for OJ, don’t let it get to you. Get a legal team together, prepare to defend the lawsuit and keep your eye on the important things in life; coming home at the end of your shift.

In the next article, we’ll discuss filing a formal answer to the lawsuit. You may want to review previous articles in this series before next week.  Stay safe!

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