Almost two years ago, a New York police officer mistook a former tennis star for a suspected criminal and tackled the innocent man to the ground. The injured man has gone through a rollercoaster of trial reschedules in order to see the officer answer for his misconduct. Even after the trial is concluded, the former tennis star could wait many more months before the police commissioner submits a final ruling. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the police commissioner will punish the officer for use of excessive force and, even if he does, that punishment may never become public knowledge.
The process for pursuing a claim against a police officer for misconduct often involves an initial ruling by a civilian oversight board, followed by a departmental trial, and then a ruling by the police commissioner. While this is often the path of least resistance for victims that want to see justice done, most people do not have the same kind of resources available as the former tennis star, and therefore face many more obstacles.
The New York Times has recently obtained data that suggests that the average wait time for a trial case to come to rest is 454 days. The plaintiffs then have to wait an additional average of 201 days for the departmental judge to provide a ruling and the police commission to decide whether to uphold it or reject it.
Departmental trial delays and rescheduling often has two results. First, witnesses, evidence and even the complaints themselves tend to disappear. Second, it usually takes a mental and emotional toll on the plaintiff. Even more serious offenses, such as the shooting of an unarmed individual, can take years to see the inside of a departmental court room. While some people can hire the services of an attorney, others must depend on advocacy groups to help them pursue their complaints.
The review board that oversees the initial complaint has made some small strides in reducing the time it takes to investigate an incident of police brutality or other misconduct. Unfortunately, the case slows down to a snail’s pace when it comes time to actually go to trial. One of the most common tactics a police department uses is to file a request for the review board to reconsider the investigation’s findings. A police department can sometimes wait up to six months to submit such a request.
While the process can definitely seem stacked against a plaintiff in a police brutality case, it is important to not lose faith in the process. The defendant is often counting on the person issuing the complaint to give up. In order to receive justice, you must see the process through to the end.