Earlier this year, the San Diego Police Department came under fire when two of its deputies were accused of misconduct. Video footage recorded by a bystander during an arrest showed the two deputies “repeatedly punching” and “shoving” two suspects. Those two suspects were in handcuffs and not resisting the officers’ commands. The incident sparked several investigations, including one by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.
Those investigations have concluded, and the two deputies are now facing criminal charges for their actions. Specifically, the two men have been charged with “misdemeanor assault without lawful necessity by an officer.” The officers may also be vulnerable to civil lawsuits filed by the two men who were the targets of the violent behavior.
When Does An Officer’s Use of Force Cross the Line?
Police officers have the authority to use force, when necessary, to enforce the law. However, this authority is not unlimited. According to the National Institute of Justice, officers should only use “the amount of force necessary to mitigate an incident, make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm.” In other words, the degree of force used by an officer must be justified by the specific circumstances of a situation. Using more force than is necessary to ensure public safety can be a crime.
Charges of Assault for Excessive Use of Force
The San Diego officers are accused of using more force than was necessary for the arrest of two suspects. An investigation found that there is sufficient evidence to support criminal charges. As a result, they’ve both been charged with misdemeanor assault.
In California, assault is the crime of attempting to commit a violent injury on another person. When you’re charged with assault, the state will have to prove you:
- Acted in a way that was likely to result in the harmful or offensive touching of another person;
- Acted willfully;
- Knew or should have known your actions could result in a harmful or offensive touching;
- Had the present ability to apply force to the other person; and
- Weren’t acting in self-defense.
In other words, the state has to prove that you intentionally engaged in behavior that you knew could cause harmful or offensive contact with another person. The fact that you make contact with that person is irrelevant. However, you must have been able to make contact with the person at that time.
Police officers are typically shielded from criminal charges for assault because the use of force is often a necessary part of the job. However, officers must have a lawful necessity to use force. Without a lawful necessity, officers can be vulnerable to criminal charges for assault.
Assault, as defined in Penal Code 240 PC, is typically a misdemeanor. Penalties can include probation, fines, and up to six months in a San Diego County Jail. Since the deputies were acting in an official capacity, they are facing enhanced penalties. If convicted, each deputy can be sentenced to 12 months in jail for each individual count.
Section 1983 Lawsuits
Police officers generally enjoy immunity from civil lawsuits for actions they perform on the job. However, Section 1983 of the United States Code extends certain rights to victims of police abuse or misconduct. Specifically, individual officers and/or police departments can be sued for violations of a victim’s Constitutional rights. Courts have held that excessive use of force is a violation of a person’s fundamental rights. As a result, officers who use excessive force can be held criminally and civilly responsible for their abusive actions.
The San Diego deputies could potentially be sued under Section 1983 by their two victims. The victims would have to prove:
- Their Constitutional rights were violated (excessive force)
- By a person acting under color of state law (police officers), and
- They were injured because of these actions (physical, emotional, and/or financial harm).
A successful Section 1983 lawsuit can allow a victim to recover compensation for damages they actually suffered because of the violation. This can include damages for medical expenses, rehabilitation, psychological counseling, lost wages, and disability. If an officer acted with “evil intent” or if their actions were “reckless or callously indifferent to the federally protected rights of others,” punitive damages may also be awarded.
Are you facing criminal charges in San Diego? You have the right to defend yourself. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj can help. Call to schedule your free consultation today. We’ll review your case and help you understand your rights.