How Do I Sue the Police for Violating Civil Rights?

People who have experienced civil rights violations at the hands of police in Chicago, Illinois may wonder, “How do I sue the police for violating civil rights?” To do this, you must identify the police officer or department responsible for the violation. You must then determine the damages or losses suffered due to the violation.

Next, hire a lawyer with a successful record of resolving cases involving civil rights violations to help you collect evidence to support your case. The lawyer will also guide you on how to file a civil rights complaint against the police and what you need to maximize your chances of winning compensation.

Civil Rights Violations in Illinois

Discrimination with respect to housing, public accommodations, financial credit, education, and employment is unlawful in Illinois. Victims can bring civil action against individuals or businesses that discriminate against them. They can call, write to, or visit the human rights department within 300 days of the alleged violation. Sexual harassment is also considered a civil rights violation in Illinois, carrying civil and criminal consequences.

What Constitutes a Civil Rights Violation?

Civil rights violations constitute offenses happening due to the threat of force by an offender to a victim who belongs to a protected class. For instance, getting assaulted because you belong to a certain race, ethnicity, religion, or gender qualifies as a civil rights violation. Other forms of civil rights violations include law enforcement misconduct, healthcare access interference, slavery rings, religious interference, and hate crimes.

One of the unique characteristics of a civil violation is discrimination based on protected qualities. The discrimination may be subtle or overt. Subtle discrimination occurs through practices or policies that can make you miss out on opportunities or subject you to harm.

Overt discrimination may manifest through explicit actions or statements. Either way, you may be discriminated against based on race, color, disability status, national origin, and age. Other protected characteristics that can make you a victim include sex (gender identity and sexual orientation included), familial status, and religion.

Common Civil Rights Violations by the Police in Illinois

Though the Illinois police took a vow to protect residents and pursue justice for them, they can be liable for civil rights violations. The violations may take different forms depending on the context and protected characteristics of the victim. Common civil rights violations by the Illinois police include:

  • Police shootings
  • Wrongful search and seizure and no-knock warrants
  • Unlawful arrests and wrongful conviction
  • Police brutality, police abuse of authority, unlawful chases, and use of excessive force
  • Cruel and unusual punishment
  • Sexual assault

But what is police brutality with respect to civil rights violations? Police brutality is a form of police misconduct involving unnecessary use of excessive force. An officer can face criminal charges for excessive use of force.

Your Rights as a Citizen

Your rights as an American citizen are guarantees of equal protection and equal social opportunities under federal and state law. These guarantees are in place regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or other defining personal characteristics. On a basic level, you are entitled to:

  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Freedom of speech, assembly, and religion
  • The right to petition the government
  • The right to procedural due process

Additional Safeguards for Citizens’ Rights in Illinois

A Civil Rights Bureau under the Illinois Attorney General’s office enforces civil rights laws in the state. The bureau launches investigations of unlawful policing practices and hate crimes against Illinois residents. It also looks into complaints of practices and patterns of financial, employment, public accommodation, and housing discrimination.

You should contact the Attorney General’s office to report instances of discrimination, hate crimes, and harassment by the police. The staff working at the Civil Rights Bureau accepts reports from Illinois residents via email or telephone calls. You can also submit a complaint by completing a form on the bureau’s website.

Provisions Related to Police Conduct and Accountability

The Illinois legislature enacted a law on safety, accountability, fairness, and equity to govern the criminal justice system. Thanks to this legislation, there are provisions on police conduct and accountability. The legislation covers elements of the criminal justice system, including pre-arrest diversion, pretrial, corrections, sentencing, and policing.

Under this act, there are standards for when police officers can use force. The law also requires officers to offer aid after using physical force and intervene if other officers use excessive or unauthorized force. Police officers are prohibited from accessing military equipment, but encouraged to undergo training on de-escalation, crisis intervention, and high-risk traffic stops.

In areas of misconduct and complaints, the law established a statewide decertification for police officers found to have committed misconduct. It also allows the Attorney General to oversee civil lawsuits and settlements, while allowing for anonymous complaints against officers to be investigated. The law forbids the destruction of police misconduct records and allows victims to file complaints without affidavits.

The Process of Filing a Lawsuit Against the Police in Illinois

Start by determining who to sue before starting a lawsuit against the police in Chicago, Illinois. Once you do that, you can file and send a copy of a Notice of Claim to that party.

The Notice of Claim will inform the other party that you intend to file a lawsuit, allowing that party to investigate your allegations thoroughly. You must file it within 90 days after the law enforcement misconduct. If not, your case might be dismissed.

After filing a Notice of Claim, you should file a Summons and Complaint with a relevant court. The complaint will give more insights into the lawsuit by stating all facts that support your claims. It will also highlight the laws applicable to your claim and specify what you want.

Your case will proceed to discovery once you submit the initial documents. At this stage, you will exchange information and documents with the police department to decide whether to agree to a settlement or pursue damages through a trial. Documents submitted at this stage include medical records of your illness or injuries and treatment sought, and employment records that show your lost wages.

You may agree on a settlement with the police department for the losses or injuries you sustained due to the misconduct. If there’s no settlement agreement, your case will move to trial, where witnesses and evidence will get presented to a carefully selected jury. The jury shall decide whether you are entitled to monetary compensation and, if so, what amount is enough to cover your losses.

A civil rights lawyer can carefully analyze the specific details of the alleged violation of your constitutional rights to determine if you have a right to sue the police. If so, the lawyer can collect and organize evidence to prove the liability of the police officer or department. He or she can also secure reasonable compensation on your behalf through negotiation with the police or skillful litigation in court.

Requirements for Filing a Lawsuit Against Law Enforcement Officers or Departments

While you might be within your legal rights to sue a police officer or department for misconduct, you must observe certain requirements when pursuing a lawsuit. Police departments have sovereign immunity that shields them from most legal claims, since they operate as a government agency. However, the court may lift this protection if you can prove unlawful and willful behavior from the police department’s side.

Your constitutional rights align with federal and state civil rights laws. You can, therefore, pursue a lawsuit against the police if you have your rights, immunities, or privileges violated. A civil rights violation lawsuit brought against a police department can help you seek economic and non-economic damages.

The economic damages you can seek through the suit include lost income, past/future medical expenses, and loss of earning potential. Your potential non-economic damages may include loss of enjoyment of life, emotional or mental distress, and pain and suffering. You may also be entitled to punitive damages, which serve as punishment for police officers to discourage them from committing the same violation in the future.

Your lawsuit must highlight the violations you are accusing the police officer or department of committing. These violations may depend on the rights and freedoms you were entitled to during the misconduct.

What Is the Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations dictates the maximum time limit for parties involved in a legal dispute to bring legal proceedings against each other. It usually begins from the date of the alleged violation or offense, whether criminal or civil. This deadline allows victims to seek justice for wrongdoing within a certain window that varies with the jurisdiction and nature of the violation or offense.

The deadline for starting a civil rights lawsuit involving personal injury in Illinois is two years. As such, you have two years from the time of the alleged violation to take legal action against the defendant. Your civil rights lawyer can ensure you have filed your claim on time and submitted all the required documents.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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