How To Sue The Police

In this article, we will go over the basics of how to file a civil lawsuit against a state or local police department in Federal District Court without an attorney.  Of course, it is always advisable to have a competent attorney by your side.  If you can afford it.  With access to legal services being woefully inadequate and the cost of hiring an attorney being prohibitively expensive, many people have no choice but to represent themselves in Federal Court.

Fortunately, the basics of filing a lawsuit against a police officer or department are not as complicated as they first seem. If you do decide to move forward with your lawsuit, we highly recommend you purchase our Civil Rights Lawsuit Package which includes more detailed instructions, form templates, and samples.

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1. Drafting the Complaint

As with most other civil lawsuits, drafting a complaint is the first step to filing a civil rights lawsuit against the police. This is the document in which you lay out the allegations against the defendant and allege how you have been harmed. Keep in mind that you do not need to try and prove your allegations in the complaint. You are only alleging what happened. Of course, to ultimately prevail at trial, you will definitely need to offer evidence that supports the claims you initially make in your complaint.

However, simply alleging that you have been harmed is not quite enough. You must know whether or not to sue the police department itself, or the individual police officer who caused you harm (it is usually less complicated to sue the individual police officer). You must also properly allege the individual elements of your specific claim for relief. For example, if you are suing a police officer for use of excessive force, you must allege that you were subject to an unreasonable seizure under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, due to the excessive amount of force used.

If you are suing a police officer, you must also be aware of 'Qualified Immunity', which is a legal doctrine that grants immunity to police officers for violating a person's civil rights if such right was not 'clearly established' at the time the alleged violation occurred.

Lawsuit Against Police Sample

Once the elements of a claim are known, they need to be written up in a complaint in the proper format. If your complaint is not formatted correctly, it may be rejected by the court clerk! Most complaints in federal court have the following format:

  • The Plaintiff's name and contact info goes in the upper left corner.
  • A 'Case Caption' with basic information about the case.
  • A 'Statement of Jurisdiction' alleging why the District Court you filed in is the proper court to hear your case.
  • ‘Facts Alleged’, wherein the plaintiff alleges all the facts that constitute the elements of their claims.
  • ‘Claims for Relief’ where the plaintiff states how the allegations, if proven, will constitute a legally cognizable claim.
  • ‘Prayer for Relief’, where the plaintiff asks the court to award a specific remedy, such as economic or non-economic damages.
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2. Filing and Serving the Complaint and Summons

Once the complaint has been drafted in the proper style and format, the plaintiff will need to file it at the appropriate courthouse and pay the applicable filing fee. If a plaintiff has limited financial means, they may be able to qualify for a fee waiver/deferral and can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver application. Once the complaint has been filed, it will need to be served on the defendant.

In federal court, when you file your complaint, you also need to fill out a summons. The summons is the official legal notice that requires the defendant to appear and answer the charges in the complaint. The clerk should have a blank summons form available for you to fill out. You will also need to fill out a civil cover sheet.

Lawsuit Against Police In Federal Court
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Request for production Federal Court

3. Engaging in the Discovery Process

Once served, the defendant will have a certain amount of time to respond by filing an ‘Answer’ to the complaint. After an answer has been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other. These disclosures are made by each party sending the other a 'Request for Production of Documents’ wherein they ask for specific documents that are relevant to the case. Our Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Package contains forms, samples, and instructions on how to send and respond to requests for production.  Discovery often includes depositions of witnesses as well.

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4. Presenting your Evidence in Court

After discovery is complete, a hearing or trial will be set and both sides will present their case to a judge, jury, or private arbitrator. This includes submitting exhibits and interviewing witnesses.

Once both sides are finished presenting their claims and defenses, the judge or jury will find in favor of one party or the other.

How to represent yourself in court
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This is a general overview of how to sue the police for a violation of civil rights in federal court. Of course, the specifics of any case can be a bit more complex, but if you understand these basic concepts, you will be able to represent yourself competently in most civil lawsuits.

The Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Form package will show you how to file a lawsuit against a police officer or department, send and respond to requests for production, introduce exhibits, offer objections, and interview witnesses at a hearing or trial. All without an attorney. Start your lawsuit today!

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How to sue the police

How To File A Civil Rights Lawsuit In Federal Court