In a dramatic courtroom conclusion (http://nyti.ms/16mkJyD), a federal judge threw out the 2011 convictions of five New Orleans police officers charged with killing unarmed civilians and covering up their actions in the days following Hurricane Katrina.
A new trial has been ordered because of prosecutorial misconduct that the judge found to have essentially deprived these five defendants of a fair and impartial trial. The case has received national attention as a civil rights action that potentially exposed some of the notorious crimes attributed to the New Orleans Police Department (http://to.pbs.org/MVhaWR).
Strictly for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the next trial results in an acquittal of murder charges for all five police officers. What steps could the families of the deceased victims take if they wanted to sue the New Orleans Police Department for wrongful death?
While speaking to a wrongful death attorney would be the first step in establishing the necessary actions, suing a government agency such as a city’s police department requires meeting a special burden of proof. In order to succeed in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs must establish that despite working in the course of duty, the police officers should be held civilly liable for the death of another person.
The plaintiffs must first navigate the issue of immunity. Immunity shields police officers from liability for performing the duties of their job. The plaintiffs then must show the police officers used excessive and unreasonable force for immunity to not apply.
The facts of each situation determine whether the actions were excessive and unreasonable. The most challenging aspect in some cases can be establishing reasonableness of the police officer’s decision to use force, since the standard is somewhat subjective, based on what the police officer believed was happening at the time of a discharged weapon or other aggressive act.
Considering the hand-to-hand and weapons training that police officers receive, an abuse of force poses a serious threat to the public. A wrongful death attorney must carefully maneuver meeting the burden of proof for excessive and unreasonable force in order to challenge the immunity normally protecting the police.