Series: Lawsuits Against LEOs-When they say, “I’ll See You In Court,” will you see them again?
If you have been a LEO for more than five minutes, someone has probably threatened to sue you. While the context changes from domestic disputes to the execution of search warrants and complicated arrests, LEOs hear the threats of litigation all too often. I receive about one call per month from a LEO who is concerned that someone may sue. So how do you separate the people who will sue from the people who only threaten to sue? What can you do to protect yourself when you believe the threat is credible?
Receiving a threat from a suspect about a lawsuit is like hearing that a soon to be arrestee is “a black belt.” Although you hear it all the time, you should proceed with caution. Although many people theorize that only rich people sue, this is not reality. In the real word, lawsuits are filed against LEOs by people of all means and socioeconomic standing. Folks with the means to sue are likely to do so. However, many groups exist to assist anyone with a suit against a LEO and many suits are filed by inmates. The short answer is, there is no way to be certain that someone will carry through on a threat to sue.
With any threat, of litigation or otherwise, take precautions. You should realize that it is relatively easy for anyone to file a lawsuit against a LEO. So, check court records online to find out if they have filed suit in the past. You can do this in the federal courts as well. In addition, make certain that your official report is thorough and take some time to preserve the evidence that will protect you. Make certain that you have a copy of the dashboard video, audiotape of telephone calls or any other evidence that you believe might get misplaced or be destroyed over time. Keep track of the criminal case as it moves through the legal process and keep an open line of communication with the prosecutor. Make certain that the prosecutor knows that this defendant threatened to file suit. Finally, you should also get a copy of the prosecutor’s file when the criminal case is complete and keep it for your records.You should do the same for any related files regarding any internal investigations that involve the defendant.
Finally, look out for letters from the individual’s attorney or requests for documents from your department, especially your personnel file. If you receive any letters or notices regarding the case, notify your chain of command. This is essential to make certain that your department can properly defend you. You should also speak with a private attorney to make certain that your interests are properly protected. If you are a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, you should notify your lodge executive board and the representative of your legal defense plan.
The most important thing to remember is that being sued is not fair. After all, the fire department gets to a house, chops holes in the roof and the homeowner brings a cake to the fire station the next day! Such is the glamorous life of a LEO!!