To: The Client
4 August 2019
RE: Legal Advice on Next Steps
I write as a follow-up to our ongoing engagement regarding the filing of a complaint against law enforcement in the State of Texas.
As I am to understand, the Client has completed a notarized complaint form and submitted it to the Houston Police Department. Following which, the Client now seeks to understand the next steps which need to be taken in order to proceed with a lawsuit for misconduct. This legal opinion clarifies the direction to be taken as follows.
There are Federal and state laws governing police misconduct in both criminal and civil statutes. These laws cover the actions of State, county, and local officers. After having reviewed the relevant laws/regulations/guidelines pertaining to your question, I have noted the following key areas of concern:
- Complaint Investigation and Status: You will probably be contacted during the investigation and will be communicated to after it concludes.
- The Client recently submitted a complaint to the Houston Police Department. All complaints received by the Department are processed through the Central Intake Office. When a complaint is received, it is reviewed to determine the nature of the allegations. The most serious type of complaint is investigated by the Internal Affairs Division. These complaints involve allegations such as excessive force, any discharge of firearms, or criminal activity such as theft. Complaints comparatively less serious in nature, such as rude behavior or improper procedure, are forwarded to the individual officer’s division for investigation. In every case, the person making the complaint will be contacted during the investigation for additional information, and will be notified by mail of the final disposition.
- Generally, victims of police misconduct are allowed to sue the individual police officers involved in their case or their supervisors or agency. However, most misconduct claims are made against the individual police officer(s) involved. However, an important factor to consider is the role that government immunity plays in these lawsuits.
- Government Immunity: There are policies that protect government agencies and officers from being sued in many cases. These protections are meant to make it easier for governments to make decisions due to being free from interference from lawsuits. Because of how difficult the governmental immunity doctrine makes suing a municipality, suing a police officer supervisor is generally only feasible if they were directly involved with the incident in question.
- Criminal or Civil Lawsuit: It is important for the Client to determine the type of lawsuit that they want to bring against the law enforcement officer.
- Civil lawsuits: These lawsuits are aimed at receiving compensation for injury or damage suffered as a result of the misconduct. They would typically be suits for torts, also known as civil wrongs, which include negligence. Having reviewed the facts of your case, it may be possible to raise a civil suit, but it is necessary to outline what damage you have suffered.
- Criminal lawsuit: These lawsuits are aimed at punishing a law enforcement officer for misconduct such as use of excessive force or illegal searches. However, it is difficult to bring criminal charges against a police officer. This is due to a variety of factors including the possibility of immunity protections. Having reviewed the facts of your case, it may be possible to raise a criminal suit, but you would be required to support your claim with substantially more evidence than the civil suit. This would go beyond your personal testimony to include supporting evidence from other witnesses or perhaps an insurance claim as a result of the property damage to your vehicle.
In light of the foregoing, the Client is advised to wait a few more weeks to receive feedback on the progress of their complaint before proceeding with a lawsuit. As stated earlier, it is important to exhaust available remedies before approaching a court with a lawsuit against a government agency. This is especially important with lawsuits against police officers since courts are likely to dismiss a case if they are under the impression that ignoring available complaint procedures would be an abuse of the court process. Afterward, if the Client’s initial complaint is ignored, then it would be possible to file a lawsuit in a court of law. At that point, it would be possible to argue that the relevant remedies were inaccessible or unavailable.
With respect to the nature of the lawsuit, the Client has the freedom to decide which direction to take. Particularly, the Client may pursue either a civil or criminal suit since the circumstances of your case may support either claim. This is dependent on the Client’s main objective in pursuing this matter. However, the client is advised to favor a civil claim since the chances of success are higher.
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