Thus far in 2019, 637 individuals have died in police-involved shootings. In 2018, a total of 992 people were shot and killed by law enforcement officers. While there have been 96 fewer shootings this year than at the same time last year, the risk of getting shot by police is still significant. In 2019, eight shootings involving police have taken place in Illinois.
Wrongful Death at the Hands of Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve the public. They have a responsibility to protect the civil rights of the general public and to discharge their duties in a manner that complies with the law and established police procedures.
There are numerous instances, however, when law enforcement officers violate the rights of the public by negligently using deadly force. Such examples may include using a firearm to respond to a non-lethal threat, wantonly discharging a firearm in a public place, and willfully disregarding the health and safety of suspects.
Negligence vs. Intentional Act
Police work is dangerous and chaotic. However, no matter how dangerous the situation or how fast the required response, law enforcement officers are never released from their duty of care to the public.
Negligence involves situations where a law enforcement officer makes a mistake when responding to a situation. Such examples would include an officer accidentally discharging a weapon, or firing a weapon at a suspect in the mistaken belief the suspect had a firearm.
Conversely, intentional acts are when an officer willfully violates the rights of the public. These instances often involve an abuse of authority such as an officer pulling a firearm on an unarmed suspect during a traffic stop or an officer discharging a weapon into a crowd.
When individuals are injured in negligent or intentional acts by law enforcement, they can pursue claims in state or federal court depending on the circumstances. When the claim involves negligent actions or malicious intent, these claims are filed in state court. Claims of civil rights violations by law enforcement are filed in federal court against the city where the police department is located.
Most jurisdictions extend qualified immunity to law enforcement officers. In many situations, law enforcement officers cannot be held personally liable for injuries or deaths they cause. However, this immunity is not absolute and only covers situations where the officer acted within the guidelines of established law and procedures. In situations where the actions of law enforcement officers willfully violate established law, they are not immune from civil lawsuits for their actions.
Fourth Amendment Violations
Many police shootings involve violations of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. This provides protection against excessive force, denial of medical care, or actions that occurred due to inadequate training. When law enforcement negligently responds to a situation using force that causes death or serious injury, or when law enforcement disregards the health of an individual following a shooting, they deliberately violate the civil rights of the victim.
Similarly, police departments can be held liable when inadequate or improper training results in the injury or death of a member of the public. Moreover, in addition to any claims of personal injury or wrongful death, there may be additional violations including false imprisonment, destruction of evidence, or assault and battery to consider.
The individual, or their personal representative in cases where the victim dies, must file injury claims within the established statute of limitations. In Illinois, victims must file these claims within one year of the incident or the date of the individual’s death. The court can dismiss the claim if it is filed after this time period expires.
It is crucial to act quickly and commence the process of gathering evidence as soon as a police officer-involved shooting takes place. Police reports, news stories, eyewitness statements, etc. should be carefully gathered and cataloged so that critical details of the event can be preserved and examined by the victim’s personal injury lawyer in Chicago.
In some instances, the city may choose to settle the claim quickly to avoid embarrassment or the rigors of a long and expensive trial. In situations where the city believes the evidence is in their favor and the shooting was justified, they may choose to vigorously defend the claim in court.