Many have observed that police brutality results in the loss of trust by members of the community—trust officers need to be effective in their jobs. Victims and witnesses of crimes are much less likely to report crimes or cooperate in investigations if the cops have betrayed their trust by brutalizing their neighbors, family members, and friends.
Police officers are given a great deal of latitude in performing their duties. Because they are expected to protect the public and confront potentially violent individuals, they can legally use physical, and even deadly, force under certain circumstances. However, an officer who uses force when it is not called for, or who uses more force than is necessary to perform his or her job, might cross the line into police brutality. In these kinds of instances, people often sue for excessive police force.
Given that the unique and broad powers wielded by police officers are conferred by the state, police officers are essentially acting on behalf of the government. The U.S. Constitution defines the limits of governmental powers.
These constitutional constraints apply to police officers as agents of the government. A citizen who is subjected to police brutality may be able to sue the police officer or even the department for personal injury damages under state tort law. Many cases of police brutality also involve civil rights violations under the Constitution or federal law.
Among the constitutional claims that a victim of police brutality may raise are:
Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act allows a victim to file a civil lawsuit against the government to seek damages for a civil rights violation. It applies to violations committed by a wrongdoer acting "under color of law," which generally means acting in some government capacity.
If you believe that you've been the victim of police brutality, consider contacting a lawyer in your area with experience in cases like yours. You might find civil rights or personal injury lawyers that handle such matters. If you have a criminal case, make sure to talk to your criminal defense attorney before taking any legal action outside of criminal court.