In the Black Lives Matter era, it’s no secret that police misconduct cases are a common occurrence in the United States legal system. From excessive force to warrantless searches, attorneys like our team at the Gilbert Law Firm always have work representing people whose civil rights have been violated by the police.
One of the most common complaints against the police that we hear are complaints of “false arrest,” meaning that the police arrested someone for something they didn’t do. Is it possible to sue the police for false arrests, also known as “unlawful arrests,” in Washington state?
The answer is complicated, but there are certain lawsuits you can file to pursue damages for being falsely arrested in Washington. Unfortunately, the police usually have immunity in these situations, which means it is going to be very difficult to prove they did anything wrong.
Read on for expert civil rights attorney Bill Gilbert’s explanation of when and how you can sue a police officer for unlawful arrest.
Unlawful arrests in Washington State
An “unlawful arrest” is when someone is held against their will without legal authority. The most common example of this is when someone not involved with the police force does the arresting, because they don’t have the legal authority to make the arrest.
But even police officers should have reasonable suspicion that the person they’re arresting is guilty of or about to commit a crime. So if you can prove that a police officer didn’t have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make an arrest, you might be able to sue them for unlawful arrest too.
Here are some examples of situations that might count as an “unlawful arrest”:
- A mall security guard holds someone against their will without legal justification
- A store employee holds someone against their will on suspicion of shoplifting
- A police officer arrests someone for getting into a verbal argument
- A police officer handcuffs a person during a warrantless search of their house
Suing for unlawful arrest in Washington State
There are a number of ways you can sue a police officer for false arrest.
- False arrest can be considered an intentional tort, which means it is a non-criminal civil violation that the person did on purpose. In order to prove an intentional tort, you will have to prove that the police officer intentionally restrained you and that you were aware of the restraint at the time.
- You might also be able to sue the police officer for a civil rights violation under federal law. Many civil rights attorneys use 42 U.S. Code § 1983, a federal statute that protects Americans’ civil rights, to sue the government over police misconduct. This statute is especially useful if you were the victim of police brutality, racial profiling, or some form of discrimination.
- Finally, unlawful imprisonment is a felony defined as “knowingly restraining another person.” It is unlikely that a police officer will be charged for unlawful imprisonment, but it still might be a useful angle to consider.
However, just because a police officer’s actions fall under one of these categories doesn’t mean that they can be held civilly or criminally liable for false arrest. Police officers often have immunity in these situations, which can make it very difficult to hold them accountable.
“Qualified immunity” is a legal doctrine that shields police and other government officials from liability in civil rights lawsuits, as long as the courts haven’t explicitly ruled that what they did is illegal.
In Washington, the courts have even ruled that police officers are specifically immune from liability for false arrest and unlawful imprisonment, as long as the police officer thought that they were acting in accordance with the law.
What this means for false arrest cases is that you have to go above and beyond. You and your attorney need to prove that any reasonable police officer should have known that what they were doing was not in accordance with the law.
You’ll need an experienced and qualified civil rights attorney to make sure that justice is done in this situation.
Contact a Spokane civil rights attorney today
At Gilbert Law Firm, our job is to help protect the people of Washington from infringements on their civil rights. We represent people who are victims of police brutality, discrimination, racial profiling, or false arrest.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and talk about your case.