Recently, a federal grand jury indicted a West Virginia sheriff on charges that he beat a criminal suspect to the point of bodily injury, in violation of federal criminal law. Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley allegedly beat the suspect after a failed heist and vehicle chase in December 2010, where the suspect led police through Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
The suspect, currently serving time in Maryland’s Allegheny County Detention Center for bank robbery, filed a civil suit against Shirley and 14 others who were involved in the incident. He claimed that Shirley delivered repeated blows to his head and stomped on his face, while other law enforcement officials punched him, threw him against a police car, and stunned him repeatedly.
Shirley also faces charges of deprivation of rights under the color of law for allegedly falsifying an official report entry about his use of force. If Shirley is found guilty, he could have to serve up to 30 years in prison and pay a fine of $500,000. Shirley, of course, denies that his behavior was out of bounds.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm could not guess what the outcome will be. However, we note that every criminal suspect is entitled to be represented by a West Virginia criminal defense attorney, one that is fully informed of the issues and will work hard to defend the client to the best of his ability. That right is written into the Sixth Amendment itself, which guarantees that each criminal suspect has the assistance of counsel. If a suspect cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed, usually from the public defender’s office. However, public defenders are often overworked, with too little time to devote to each case, whereas an experienced private attorney generally has more time to devote to each client. So if you or your loved one face a criminal indictment, and you can afford to hire a private attorney, you should find one as soon as possible.
At the same time, even if you are a criminal suspect or convicted, as this case demonstrates, you can file a civil lawsuit if you believe that you were mistreated at any point during your arrest or confinement. It is not uncommon for suspects to not only file a negligence lawsuit, but to also charge law enforcement officials with deprivations of rights under the federal statute 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment.
If you or your loved one were arrested and believe that you have been mistreated, and that mistreatment resulted in an injury, you could file a negligence lawsuit. You would argue that the law enforcement officials had a duty to treat suspects with a reasonable amount of care — including using reasonable force against suspects to subdue them. This duty was breached when the law enforcement officials used force that far exceeded what was necessary to detain you. As a result of their breach, you would argue, you sustained several injuries.
Those who file negligence lawsuits usually seek a monetary award, which is granted by a jury. The monetary award generally pays for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other needs. If the law enforcement officials’ behavior was egregious enough, you might also be entitled to punitive damages, which punishes intentional behavior or gross recklessness. Sometimes, people who file negligence lawsuits prefer to get an injunction against the offender, to stop him or her from committing such an action again.