What Constitutes Excessive Force by Oregon Police?

How it's defined, and how to protect your civil rights

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on March 3, 2023

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Reliable and fair policing is an essential part of a functioning society. While many officers work hard to protect the community, some abuse their power and authority. Unfortunately, the use of excessive force remains a serious problem.

Police brutality is a civil rights violation. If you or your loved one was harmed by excessive force, your rights have been violated. Police departments can be held liable for misconduct. That being said, defining and proving excessive force can be challenging. Below, you will find an overview of the most important things to know about bringing an excessive force claim against Oregon police.

Excessive Force: Defined

A police officer’s job is to protect and serve. The law allows officers to use force, including the use of deadly force, against civilians when it is necessary to make an arrest, protect their own safety, or protect public safety more broadly.

But both law enforcement agencies and individual officers have a duty to use the appropriate amount of force for a given situation. If non-violent methods or de-escalation can be used, an officer is not justified in the use of deadly physical force or other force applications such as choke holds or chemical agents.

Excessive force is force beyond what an officer reasonably believes to be a necessary to handle the situation. Of course, what counts as reasonable force is debatable, and excessive force claims are highly fact specific.

Civil Rights Law and Police Misconduct in Oregon

Basic protections against police brutality arise from the United States Constitution. Excessive force is a civil rights violation. In Oregon, victims of police brutality may have rights under both state law and federal law:

  • Oregon Law: Under Oregon law (Oregon Revised Statute 161.235), a police officer is justified in the use of physical force to make a lawful arrest, for self defense, or to defend a third party. State and local police officers in Oregon may be liable for harm caused by excessive force.
  • Federal Law: Many police brutality claims are federal cases. Under 42 U.S. Code § 1983 (Section 1983), law enforcement officers have a professional duty to use a level of force that an objective, reasonable officer would have used under similar circumstances. Excessive force is a Fourth Amendment violation. Through a Section 1983, a police officer or law enforcement agency may be liable for excessive or lethal force.

Three Steps to Take to Protect Your Rights

Excessive force cases are civil claims. While the most severe instances of police abuse may also be a criminal matter, a civil rights claim will be handled in civil court. As police brutality claims can be challenging, it is imperative that victims prepare a strong and compelling case. Among other things, excessive force victims should:

Take Immediate Action

There is a strict statute of limitations in excessive force claims. You may have as little as 180 days to initiate a civil claim against a law enforcement agency in Oregon.

Secure Evidence

To bring a successful police brutality lawsuit, plaintiffs need comprehensive supporting evidence. You should proactively gather as much relevant information as possible. Evidence may include photographs of your injuries, records of medical attention you received, and contact information for witnesses who can attest to the number of officers involved and the methods of force they used.

The number one piece of advice is to seek legal help from an experienced civil rights attorney. Excessive force claims are among the most complex types of civil cases. Get the help of an Oregon civil rights attorney who has experience handling police brutality matters.

For more information on this area of law, read our overview on civil rights law.

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