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Crossing the Line: Police Brutality and DWI Arrests

I. The unlawful arrest

“Nancy, I’m going to jail.… Go get help, tell them the law is trying to kill me in my own front yard.”

It started out as a fairly routine traffic stop, based on suspicion of driving while impaired, or DWI. The words above were, almost. the very last words of Sidney B., moments before being shot to death by a seven-year veteran of the North Carolina Highway patrol.

There are indeed so many issues involved in an unlawful, or improperly implemented, DWI stop and arrest. The wrongful shooting of a suspect is certainly the worst possible outcome. That it happened in front of that person’s own family makes it even more horrific. All of these reasons add up to why it is so very important, in any criminal proceeding – especially a DWI arrest, or any case of excessive police force—to seek advice only from the most experienced of Police brutality attorneys.

The facts of this particular case also raised issues that may have made the supervisors and superiors of this patrol officer liable for damages.  An experienced Police brutality attorney has unique skills to investigate whether or not there was adequate warning of potential misconduct. Especially, to uncover if an officer may have in the past exceeded legitimate authority. Also, if police supervisors may have covered up these allegations. These past instances may have given clues as to why the officer should’ve been stopped or fully investigated or reprimanded/suspended.

II. Uncertain Chain of Events...

All of the key third party testimony in the case came from either Nancy, Sydney’s wife, or tragically enough, Sydney’s 15-year-old daughter, Kimberly. Kimberly was in the bathroom for most of the events that transpired in her father’s death. Nancy, on the other hand saw “the entire lethal encounter” from her front porch.

Sydney was a 42-year-old African American man who had pulled into the driveway of his own home. The state patrol officer stopped behind Sydney’s parked vehicle, and asked Sydney to go wait in the patrol car. When Sydney saw that he was about to get a ticket, he decided to run from the police car. Testimony by the Police brutality attorney showed that the officer, brandishing his flashlight as a weapon, pursued Sydney. In the give-and-take struggle that ensued, the officer began to hit Sydney, around the head and shoulders, until Sydney fell to the ground.

Sydney laid still momentarily. He still didn’t give up the fight, though and began to fight for control of the flashlight. This is when, apparently, the State patrol officer first used his pistol to fire at Sydney. The policeman stepped back from Sydney, and resumed firing his weapon, until he had eventually discharged six shots: five of them had hit Sydney. The criminal/defense attorney introduced autopsy evidence showing that Sydney had received not only gun shots, but “blunt force injuries to the head and neck… That pressure had been applied to the front of [the victim’s] neck by some object.”

A BAC test from the autopsy also showed severe alcohol impairment, of 0.11, which had been the basis for the original stop.

III. Investigating Prior Incidents of Alleged Police Misconduct

Possible patterns of similar police brutality or excessive aggression are essential in understanding these cases. Police brutality attorneys know that all too often, people who are suspected of drinking may have injuries of unknown origin. This means that prior reports of officers possibly “roughing someone up” carries special significance. In this case, the Police brutality attorney found at least four troubling incidents related to the officer involved in this case. And in this case, the argument was to find liability not against the police officer: but against that police officer’s supervisors for condoning or ignoring the conduct, and thus allowing it to happen.

The first significant prior incident actually involved an allegation that the officer had “senselessly beaten” a defendant at least five years before. The supervisor of this particular officer apparently never pursued a regular investigation. The next complaint actually had led to a formal investigation, which cleared the officer of the charges. Next, there was a counseling session for the officer about being “Insulting to the public.” There was also another alleged assault on a criminal defendant, when the supervising officer allegedly said to the officer “you got another one.” The response of the supervising officer in this particular offence was that they “allegedly laughed.”  An incident again involving the same officer occurred almost a year before Sydney’s case: that complaint said that the officer inflicted or participated in the infliction of two 5-inch cuts on a suspect’s head, as well as delivering blows to that man’s ribs (two officers were involved in that alleged beating).

Most of the public doesn’t know, but an experienced Police brutality attorney does know, that the officers’ own reports often indicate a police officer’s justifications for violence as well. Let’s look at that officer’s own record of arrests.

IV. In his own words...

The police brutality attorney noted that the officer himself had filed what appeared to be “a disproportionately high number of assault charges against” people having been arrested. Of the nine charges of assault logged by all officers in Columbus County in a one-year period, for example, six of these were from this particular officer. There were 46 charges for resisting arrest in the County: 20 of those were filed by the same officer. Perhaps most significantly, was that in a six-year period, 13 separate people arrested by this officer alleged that he had used “excessive force.” A study of these records by the DWI/criminal offense attorney also showed that “most of the incidents appear to have involved blacks or people of lower means.” This prompted a judge to comment that it may be “only a matter of time before trooper [X] seriously injures a person.”

Conclusions:    

The court in this case agreed with the arguments of the Police brutality attorney. Applying what is often called a “shocks the conscience” test, the court found that aggressive or excessively physical force against unarmed people was unconstitutional.

As the experienced DWI/criminal offense attorney points out, attempts to “ascertain the truth of the allegations and the need for any corrective action” may stand in stark contrast to callousness shown by ignoring public complaints. If you, your loved ones, family members or associates—have questions involving DWI abuses, or allegations or suspicions of police misconduct, affecting your legal rights, please contact us.  You will speak with an expert in Police brutality, who can best answer your questions about how your rights and claims may be best protected.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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