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Tom Pugh Sept. 18, 2021

If a loved one has been killed by an officer in a police shooting, sometimes, it is hard to get answers to your questions. It may seem like the police and the prosecutors are just sweeping things under the rug, or, no one seems to care about the deceased. Whether or not the use of force is justified is a complex question, and the answer you get changes when you analyze it from a criminal framework versus a civil framework.

Before you do anything to try to get answers, contact an attorney. Whether it is because you want the truth about what happened, or, you want to sue the police for money, or, you want the officer to be criminally prosecuted, your actions can affect the outcome negatively. This is not just us trying to generate business here by telling you to get an attorney first. Not at all. It matters because your actions can affect the outcome.

First, if you share certain information about your loved one to the investigators, it could negatively impact the community’s idea of whether or not your loved one was the aggressor. Kind of like a character attack. Next, if you jump the gun and open an estate, then you will mistakenly start the statute of limitations on any claim for excessive force or wrongful death. Civil rights claims have a one year statute of limitations running from the date of the violation, which would be the date of death. However, if there was a death, then in actuality, you have one year to open an estate, and the statute of limitations begins to run one year from when you open the estate. To further complicate things, spouses and minor children also have claims when their parent, husband, or wife has been killed called loss of consortium. Adults have one year, and children have one year from when they turn 18. Not easy to keep it straight, right? Last, you could try to collect information or interview witnesses, and taint the information or the witness before a professional can protect the information. You may not intentionally taint the evidence, but it happens nonetheless. This is just a snippet of important things that must be done to set up an investigation and potential lawsuit regarding a civil rights claim for excessive force.

In terms of criminal prosecution, it is very rare for police to be indicted or prosecuted for a shooting while acting in their official capacity as a law enforcement officer. However, what we are seeing is that prosecutors are holding grand jury inquests. What we have found, though, is that the prosecutors appear to be slanting their questions of witnesses in a way that leads the grand jury to not find any criminal culpability on behalf of the officers.

We have investigated and filed lawsuits on many officer involved shootings. Only a small percentage have yielded enough evidence to file a lawsuit. Contact us if you need assistance. We can at the very least give you advice on steps to take to get answers.