There are many ways residents of Philadelphia may run afoul of law enforcement, from serious criminal violations to cases of mistaken identity, to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In some instances, Pennsylvanians may even find themselves in police custody for no good reason at all. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than 6,000 Philadelphians were “stopped and frisked” in the first six months of 2018 without reasonable cause.

Many of these instances do not result in charges and the individuals involved are able to go about their lives. Unfortunately, in too many cases, law enforcement oversteps their role and officers will use an unnecessary amount of physical force to detain, arrest or control a suspect, leading to serious injuries and death. Residents are protected from unnecessary force through state and federal laws at both the criminal and civil level. Knowing your rights and what to do in a situation where you or a loved one has been injured or killed by law enforcement is important both to recover losses and to prevent officers from continuing to violate the rights of Pennsylvanians.

The most important thing an individual can do when confronted with law enforcement is to ensure their rights are respected. Under the Constitution of the United States, spelled out in the fourth and fifth amendments in particular, citizens of the U.S. are protected from illegal search and seizures and protected from being compelled to be a witness against themselves. Often, the fifth amendment is referred to as the “Due Process Clause,” while since at least the mid-1980’s, courts have held that unnecessary use of force violates the fourth amendment as an “illegal taking” by the government.

It is likely that a majority of the 6,000 Philadelphians searched in early 2018 had their constitutional rights violated. Despite multiple laws and policy regulations intended to prevent discriminatory policing, ACLU found that more than 80 percent of the “stop and frisk” detainments happened to black and latino or hispanic residents, though only about 56 percent of the city’s population is non-white. ACLU reports that the vast majority of those stopped had no criminal history and were not similar to suspects in current cases. Many seem to have simply committed the crime of “Walking or Driving while Black or Brown.”

If you are stopped by the police, ACLU recommends you take specific steps to make sure your rights are not violated. It is vital to remember to remain respectful and calm when interacting with law enforcement officers. Vulgar language, hostile motions and a sense of danger can lead officers to believe they are threatened, justifying the use of force. Speak calmly and clearly, keep hands visible and avoid behavior police may see as an attempt to escape or an opportunity to attack.

The Constitution prevents law enforcement from forcing you to answer questions to police under the fifth amendment. It is only necessary for you to say “I want to remain silent.” You are entitled to legal representation if you are arrested. It is important to remember that anything you say WILL be used against you, and even the most benign and harmless things will be twisted by police to be used against you. Do not answer questions about what happened. Simply say “I want an attorney.”

Officers are required to have permission to search your person or property. Unless an officer has a warrant signed by a judge, you are under no obligation to allow a search. Simply say “I do not consent to a search.” Officers may search you anyway, but refusing the search is the first step to mounting a defense. The only information you are required to provide to police is your name and date of birth. If you are driving, you are required to provide you driver’s license, insurance and vehicle registration, but wait until an officer asks for it before getting these documents together. Some officers may believe you are trying to hide evidence, giving them permission to search you and your vehicle under the “reasonable suspicion” doctrine. If you are being written a ticket, you must sign it, else you can be arrested.

We have all seen television shows and movies that depict police making arrests by grabbing a suspect and slamming them violently to the ground, wrenching arms and legs into restraints and tossing them into a cruiser with a smile on their face, maybe even getting a couple punches or kicks in while they are at it. The reality is that in most cases, police are prevented from forcefully arresting an individual unless that person resists, a murky and broad category of actions that is difficult to encompass. If you are being arrested, the best thing you can do is to remain calm and do not fight back. Courts have found that suspects who attempt to evade arrest and use force to escape custody essentially waive their protections, and only in rare circumstances are claims of unnecessary use of force upheld when a suspect attempts to resist arrest.

If you are arrested and you have been injured by an officer, one of your first phone calls should be to the personal injury attorneys at Joel J. Kofsky Law. We have the experience to help you recover damages if you are injured by a law enforcement officer in Philadelphia. Our decades of experience handling personal injury cases is at your disposal. We know what steps need to be taken legally in order to successfully mount an injury claim against a law enforcement agency and arresting officers. We will help you whether you are incarcerated or are free on bail, innocent of the charges against you or not. You don’t have to accept that an officer injured you, even if you are found guilty of committing the crime for which you are arrested.

The attorneys at Joel J. Kofsky Law Offices are familiar with the intricacies of filing injury claims. Under state law, there are specific steps and documents that must be filled out correctly and completely in order to seek damages against a law enforcement agency. We know what it takes to mount a successful claim of use of unnecessary force against law enforcement agencies in the state, and defense attorneys know we are willing and eager to prove your case in a court of law. Our attorneys are familiar with working with the Department of Justice to ensure residents of Pennsylvania are not unreasonably injured interacting with law enforcement agencies.

Philadelphia is among the least likely big cities in the United States to experience excessive violence by police leading to death. MappingPoliceViolence.org reports that 29 Philadelphians were killed by police between January 1, 2013 and December 31,2017. Nearly all of those killed were armed, pointed guns at police or fired at them, or fought with police in an attempt to avoid arrest.

Over the course of the last 30 years, police departments across the nation have deployed non-lethal or less-than-lethal tools to assist officers with bringing combative suspects to heel. Among the most popular, electro-shock tasers and pepper spray have been used in millions of interactions with residents, and only in specific circumstances have police been found to be unreasonable in their use.

Courts have found it to be unreasonable for officers to continue using a taser on a suspect already in custody (Roberts v. Manigold, 2007), but have generally upheld an officer’s right to “qualified immunity,” a legal doctrine that prevents claims against persons acting within the reasonable scope of their employment when dealing with a suspect who refuses to follow orders or acts in a manner that could place the officers in harms way.  

Similarly, courts have held that the use of pepper spray against unarmed individuals, particularly in cases like those seen during non-violent protests, is an unconstitutional “taking” under the fourth amendment, (Young v. County of Los Angeles, 2011.) For a variety of reasons, the courts have found police use of pepper spray to be less reasonable in most scenarios than the use of tasers or other non-lethal or less-than-lethal devices.

Law enforcement officers have many tools at their disposal to handle a variety of situations, but the most valuable is the training they receive and how they utilize that training in the field. As residents, we expect that police officers will act appropriately, but the reality is some officers are more likely to use physical force in a particular situation, and this can lead to serious injury and even death if you don’t know the limits of your rights.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to know your rights. When you are questioned by police, remember they are building a case against you, no matter how friendly they seem or what they threaten to do to you if you do not answer questions. You should say as little as possible to avoid incriminating yourself. Simply say “I want to remain silent.” If an officer tells you to sit, comply. If they place you in handcuffs, do not fight back. Do not try and wrestle with law enforcement officers, punch, hit or kick them, or make threats of violence against them. These actions will almost certainly lead to an increase in physical force by law enforcement, and courts have sided with officers in the use of force against unresponsive, threatening and potentially dangerous individuals, particularly in public situations where police are outnumbered or cannot gauge the actual threat around them.

If you believe that police used an unnecessary amount of force to arrest you, contact the Law offices of Joel J. Kofsky at once so we can begin collecting the information we need to make sure those who unnecessarily hurt you are punished and the agency responsible for those officers is held responsible for allowing your injuries to happen.