Call Today - Free Case Evaluation 951-973-4019

Lethal Excessive Force

Deadly force is the force used by police officer's and deputy sheriff's that create a large risk of causing death or serious bodily injury.

If deadly force is used the officer or deputy must have “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury.

There have been many high-profile cases recently in which law enforcement officers have used excessive force which resulted in civilian deaths. Though every case is different there is one fact that is clear: lethal or deadly force should be used only as a last resort by law enforcement officers. In many of these cases, it's clear that officers used lethal force inappropriately or prematurely. There are guidelines in place that define the circumstances under which the use of lethal or deadly force by an officer or deputy is justified.

Deadly force here is the force used by police officers and deputy sheriffs that create a large risk of causing death or serious bodily injury. It includes the discharge of a firearm. Serious bodily injury includes loss of consciousness; concussion; bone fractures; wounds requiring extensive suturing, and disfigurement. If deadly force is used the officer or deputy must have “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 3 (1985).

The Ninth Circuit has emphasized that the most important factor is whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others (example: S.B. v. City of San Diego, 864 F.3d 1010, 1013 (9th Cir. 2017) and Orn v. City of Tacoma, 949 F.3d 1167 (9th Cir. 2020).

Under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, a police officer may use only such force as is “objectively reasonable” under all of the circumstances. Generally, claims of excessive force, whether deadly or not, are typically analyzed under the objective reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment (Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381-85 (2007), Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989), Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 7-12 (1985), and Nehad v. Browder, 929 F.3d 1125, 1132 (9th Cir. 2019). If a suspect no longer poses an immediate threat, then the subsequent use of deadly force is unreasonable (Zion v. County of Orange, 874 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir. 2017.)

In a civil rights lawsuit the reasonableness of an officer's use of force is determined from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Although the facts known to the officer are relevant in a lawsuit, an officer's subjective intent or motive is not. The force used must be reasonable under the circumstances known to the officer at the time.

An unreasonable use of force is excessive use of force, often depending on the circumstances, referred to in the following terms: Police misconduct, police abuse, police brutality, deputy sheriff misconduct, deputy sheriff brutality, and deputy misconduct.

Today, advances in technology have made it possible that many incidents during which police officers and deputy sheriffs use force during encounters with civilians, are recorded on video. These include recordings by officers who are increasingly required to wear body cameras (body cams), by victims and bystanders on their cell phone cameras, and by security and surveillance video recorders positioned in the area. This publicity has heightened public awareness of the civil rights we all enjoy, and the extent to which they are all too frequently violated.

Many police officers and deputy sheriffs either haven't been adequately trained or don't follow their departmental policies or training when responding to calls, which too often ends up in a tragic loss of life for an unfortunate civilian. Here death is often the result of gunshot wounds, suffocation or lack of oxygen due to positional asphyxia, the improper use of a carotid control hold, taser misuse, or failure to provide necessary medical attention.

The policies of police and sheriff's departments most often describe in detail the procedures to be followed when their officers use force when responding to a call or taking civilians into custody.

Lethal Excessive Force is often the result of the following:

Officer Misuse of the Hobble

Officers frequently use a leg restraint device, known as a hobble, to temporarily restrain an unruly person while being detained, arrested, to prevent escape, and during transportation. The hobble is applied around the detainee or arrestee's ankles securing them together.

The hobble is usually applied while a detainee is prone on the ground on his or her stomach. Once the hobble is secured, including during transportation, officers are trained that keeping an individual on his or her stomach for even a short period may potentially reduce that person's ability to breathe and lead to suffocation or positional asphyxia. This is exacerbated when a police officer or deputy sheriff, against policy, apply pressure by kneeling on the individuals back to keep him or her prone. As a result, there are an increasing number of deaths of detainees being reported due to positional asphyxia.

Most policies prohibit officers from using the “Hog-Tie Technique” by attaching the leg restraint cord to the individual's handcuffs secured behind his or her back, because this prevents the individual from
sitting upright to avoid positional asphyxiation.

Officer Misuse of the Carotid Control Hold

Most police and sheriff's departments have stopped authorizing use of the “carotid control hold.” Despite the ban some officers continue to use it. The pressure applied to the sides of the neck of an individual involves a substantial risk of restricting blood flow to the head leading to unconsciousness and even death. The Ninth Circuit Appellate Court has confirmed that the use of a chokehold on a non resisting restrained person violates the Fourth Amendment (Tuamalemalo v. Greene, 946 F.3d 471, 477 (9th Cir. 2019).

Taser Misuse

The taser is an electroshock weapon that fires small dart-like electrodes. There are cases when police officers and deputy sheriffs have used tasers in an unlawful manner resulting in death and serious injury to individuals.

Officer Encounters With Emotionally Disturbed Individuals 

Tragically many encounters between police officers, sheriff's deputies, and emotionally disturbed individuals end in death of the unfortunate civilians. In determining whether the officer used excessive force in these case, all of the circumstances known to the officer on the scene need to be considered, including the following relevant factors: (1) whether proper warnings were given and whether it should have been apparent to officers that the person they used force against was emotionally disturbed (Glenn v. Washington County, 673 F.3d 864, 872 (9th Cir. 2011), Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1283 (9th Cir. 2001). “Even when an emotionally disturbed individual is ‘acting out' and inviting officers to use deadly force to subdue him, the governmental interest in using such force is diminished by the fact that the officers are confronted, not with a person who has committed a serious crime against others, but with a mentally ill individual.” (2) how quickly the officer(s) used deadly force after encountering the plaintiff or decedent (A. K. H. v. City of Tustin, 837 F.3d 1005, 1012 (9th Cir. 2016).

Officer Shooting At Moving Vehicles

The policies of many police departments and sheriff's departments caution their officers against shooting at moving civilian vehicles or their occupants unless the officer reasonably believes there is no other reasonable means available to avert the threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the officers or others. The use of deadly force to stop a slow-moving vehicle when the officers could easily have stepped aside violates the Fourth Amendment. Villanueva v. California, 986 F.3d 1158, 1170 (9th Cir. 2021) (citing Acosta v. City & Cnty. of S.F., 83 F.3d 1143, 1146 (9th Cir. 1996), as amended (June 18, 1996), abrogated on other grounds by Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001)).

Officer Failure to Provide Necessary Medical Attention

Officers are typically trained that persons who exhibit extreme agitation while being taken into custody, including profuse sweating, and require a protracted physical encounter with many officers to be brought under control, may be at an increased risk of sudden death, and should be examined by qualified medical personnel as soon as possible. Many officers fail to heed their training here resulting in needless civilian deaths.

Losing a family member due to the misconduct a police officer or deputy sheriff is a painful experience resulting in an unrequited loss. Too often many responsible officers do not face criminal prosecution for their conduct, and those family members suffering the loss of a loved one unfortunately face many obstacles in their effort to hold them accountable in a court of law. One of these obstacles is the “code of silence” that exists amongst too many officers. For this reason, a civil rights lawsuit may be one of the few courses of action you have in your search for justice. Although it is impossible to put a price tag on human life, a jury verdict or settlement is often the only way you will receive compensation for your loss. Your lawsuit will, in addition, help shine a spotlight on the civil rights violations caused by police officers and deputy sheriff's.

Time is of the essence as there are statutes of limitations applicable to all civil claims against governmental agencies such as Cities and their Police Departments, Counties and their Sheriffs' Departments and their employees. If a governmental claim and/or lawsuit is not timely filed, you will forever lose your ability to seek justice in a court of law.

When relating the events surrounding your injury to one of our lawyers please include where possible the identity and contact information of all potential witnesses, and whether there is video footage and photographs taken during the incident.

It is important that you consult with an attorney who understands this complex area of the law as soon as possible, who can review issues of liability with you and make recommendations on the best course of action to follow.

Contact us online with a description of your case. You can also call us at 951-554-8115 to speak with one of our excessive force attorneys/lawyers in Riverside, San Bernardino, or Orange County. We can help you!    

Contact Us Today

Lazarus Law is committed to answering your questions about Police Brutality, Lethal Excessive Force, Non-Lethal Excessive Force, Police Shootings, Police Tasers, Wrongful Arrest, K-9 Units, Prison Guard Misconduct, and Inmate Medical Neglect legal issues in California.

We offer a free consultation and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.