Robert Bennett, Andrew Noel and Katie Bennett recently settled a federal civil rights action brought on behalf of the next of kin of Dawn Marie Pfister, who was shot and killed by Defendant Brady Juell of the Chaska Police Department on Highway 212 in Eden Prairie, MN on February 7, 2014. Pfister was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Matthew Serbus, which was involved in a pursuit and eventually crashed on Highway 212. After the crash, Serbus held Pfister hostage and menaced her with a knife. These actions caused numerous officers to fire at Serbus, in attempts to save Pfister. After Serbus was shot, Serbus and Pfister fell to the ground. Pfister was able to pry the knife away from Serbus. Shortly thereafter, Juell shot Pfister four times, killing her, while she was surrounded by 11 armed officers and was partially on the ground, holding a folding knife with a 3 ¼ inch blade. The City of Chaska had coverage for $1.5 million, leaving $250,000 to come directly from the City. For more information, click here to review an article from Minnesota Lawyer.
Robert Bennett, Andrew Noel and Katie Bennett recently settled the federal civil rights action stemming from Frank Baker’s encounter with St. Paul Police officers on June 24, 2016. Video footage of the incident shows Baker being viciously attacked by St. Paul Police officer Ficcadenti’s police K9 and kicked three times in the ribs by officer Palkowitsch, while he was trying to comply with the officers’ orders. Baker sustained serious injuries and spent 14 days in the hospital as a result. He underwent skin grafts and other surgical procedures on his leg that was ripped apart by the K9. Further, Baker suffered broken ribs and collapsed lungs as a result of the kicks. On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, the St. Paul City Council unanimously approved a $2 million settlement for Baker. This settlement marks the largest police brutality settlement in the city’s history.
Defendant Anthony Spencer, one of the officers involved in the horrific June 2016 K9 and officer attack of Frank Baker, retired from the St. Paul Police Department in October 2016. In a recent article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Spencer discussed testifying on behalf of the City of St. Paul in an arbitration hearing regarding fellow-Defendant Brett Palkowitch’s use of force against Baker. Palkowitch, who kicked Baker three times in the torso while he was being attacked by a K9, is fighting to get his job back and claims his actions were justified. Spencer disagreed, claiming he testified because: “I owed it to [Mr. Baker]. How do you explain to that guy what happened to him was justified.” The kicks and the K9 attack were caught on video and can be viewed below:
More information regarding Spencer’s take on the incident and the impact it left on him can be found here:
Have my civil rights been violated?
This is a common question civil rights lawyers are asked by people from all walks of life. If your legally protected rights to equal treatment have been violated under certain circumstances — like in educational settings, work or housing environments, health care situations, or in cases of specific types of violence or misconduct — this constitutes a civil rights violation.
What are some specific examples of civil rights violation?
There are all sorts of civil rights violations, and an expert civil rights attorney can help you to determine whether you have been the victim of such a violation. However, some examples of civil rights violations are more common than others. These include:
- Sexual harassment in the workplace
- Racial discrimination when applying for a job or housing
- Law enforcement misconduct or excessive force related to race, ethnicity, religion, or gender
- Hate crimes, including threats or violence related to religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity
- Exploitation of immigrant workers
- Prison abuse
When can I not pursue a civil rights case?
Civil rights cases can be extremely complicated, which is why having a highly qualified Minnesota civil rights attorney is so important. In addition, certain laws are left up to the states, which means that private businesses in one state may be allowed to refuse service to a gay couple, while in other areas, that practice is illegal. In general though, there are some cases where discriminatory actions are technically legal and not a violation of civil rights. If your housing application was rejected because you have pets or you didn’t get a job because you’re a recent college graduate, you might think these actions are discriminatory, but they are not a valid reason to pursue a civil rights violation claim. The landlord may not like dog owners and that employer may not like millennials, but those aren’t grounds to file a suit.
What should I do if my civil rights have been violated?
From 1990 to 2006, 90% of civil rights filings centered around disputes between private parties, rather than state organizations or government factions. This means that most civil rights violations can be resolved relatively quickly. If you think your civil rights have been violated, you do have a few options. One of these options is to settle the dispute through informal negotiations. This is often an advisable choice because it means you won’t have to endure a lengthy court case. The two parties will sit down and decide upon an agreement; typically, they’ll agree to pay you a severance in exchange for you giving up the right to sue.
Another option is to file a state or federal complaint. When you do this, an investigation is usually ordered and the government will likely take action. Essentially, once you file the claim, you won’t have to take any further action yourself, as the government agency will make decisions regarding the case. This can also be performed in conjunction with other options.
Lastly, you can file a private lawsuit. The choice about whether to file a state or a federal case may be up to you and your civil rights lawyer, or it may be decided for you by the way a given law is applied. You may need to file a claim with a government agency prior to filing a private lawsuit. You’ll then get the opportunity to present the facts of your case in court. Your civil rights lawyer will show that the other party should be held responsible for these civil rights violations.
Civil rights violations need to be taken seriously, and action needs to be taken swiftly. If you’re looking for the finest civil rights attorney Minnesota has to offer, contact Gaskins Bennett today.
Excessive force at the hands of a police officer is illegal under the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If you believe you have been a victim of police misconduct or have suffered abuse at the hands of a prison guard, read on to learn more about how you can fight for your rights.
The difference between civil and criminal law
Simply put, a civil case is one that takes action against an individual for performing a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal wrong. Civil rights attorneys use the term “tort” to describe a legal wrongdoing, and most cases involve torts of assault and battery.
The majority of lawsuits against police officers include violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. This is the legal statute that outlines that it is illegal for a member of law enforcement to violate another person’s constitutional rights.
In general, police officers have the right to use whatever force they need to in order to arrest someone and protect themselves. Typically, when this type of lawsuit makes it to the courtroom, the judge will ask the jury to consider the force a reasonable person would use under the same circumstances. They also take into consideration if the person was being arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony.
However, this does not give police officers a free pass to take advantage of you or injure you in any way. If you are concerned that you may have been a victim, consider a consultation with prison abuse attorneys to find out your next step.
Some states have qualified immunity statutes, which means that public employees aren’t always held accountable for certain injuries they cause in the line of duty. This is a large problem for those looking to bring civil action against police officers, so if you require extra representation, contact our office today.
If you have been a victim of excessive force, do not hesitate to contact a lawyer. Not only will your rights be protected, but you may be able to bypass the court system as only 4% of all personal injury lawsuits ever go to trial. Call our professionals today if you have any questions.
Bob Bennett was featured in the Fall 2016 edition of Minnesota Trial, The Journal of the Minnesota Association for Justice. The article, written by Brendan Flaherty, discusses civil rights litigation and the hot topic of police excessive force. The full article can be found here and includes a Question and Answer section with Bob.
If you feel you have been a victim of police brutality, excessive force or other police abuse, please contact Bob or any member of the GBBS civil rights team for a consultation.
There have been plenty of cases in the media during the past year that have highlighted police brutality, prison abuse, and excessive force. Thanks to social media and smartphones, police abuse of civil liberties can be caught on video and shared around the world, sometimes even as it’s happening. However, it can be difficult to define police misconduct, and the line between use of force and use of excessive force isn’t always clear.
Besides speaking to an excessive force attorney, how do you know if you have a potential civil rights claim? In order to move forward with a police misconduct case, your situation must fall under situations like the following.
A very common claim against police officers is false arrest, or when you believe you have been arrested without proper cause. Typically, an arrest occurs when the police officer has probable cause that you have committed a crime; however, “probably cause” can look different to everyone. While the fourth amendment is meant to protect illegal search and seizures, if the officer has any reason to believe a crime may have been committed they can make a legal arrest. Plus, they are able to take someone into their custody even if the crime did not happen in their presence.
In order to accurately prove a false arrest claim, the victim must be able to show that the cop did not have any probable cause or did not follow the proper protocols.
Malicious prosecution means that the officer denied the victim the right to liberty. This can mean several things:
1. The police officer started their own criminal trial without a judge present.
2. There was no probable cause at the time of the arrest.
3. The proceeding was brought with intent to harm the defendant.
A trial around the use of excessive force relies upon one primary question: if the force was reasonable considering the circumstances. Most cases will be solved by a judge, who will decide if the police officer’s intentions were malicious and if the amount of force used was appropriate for the situation.
What can you do if you were the victim of police misconduct?
Are you a victim of police misconduct? Then consider hiring a police brutality attorney who will fight for your rights in court.
Too often, the U.S. criminal justice system favors the testimony and reputations of police officers over ordinary citizens, and many judges and jury members are reluctant to rule against police officers. However, with the help of excessive force attorneys, you may not need to go to trial at all, as 96% of injury cases and most civil cases are settled pre-trial.
If you have reason to believe your civil rights were violated by a law enforcement agency, then police misconduct attorneys will fight to uphold your civil rights and get the settlement you deserve.
The Super Lawyers Business Edition features the nation’s top attorneys in business practice areas. To qualify for inclusion in this nationwide directory, the attorneys must have demonstrated excellence in practice areas useful to business, as well as having been selected to a 2016 or 2017 Super Lawyers list. Three of GBBS’s managing partners were included in the 2016 directory – Steve Gaskins for Business Litigation; Timothy Schupp for Civil Litigation Defense and Andrew Birrell for White Collar Criminal Defense. The entire directory can be viewed here.
Members of the Reid Sagehorn Litigation Team, including GBBS partners Robert Bennett and Paul Dworak, along with Joe Friedberg and Ron Rosenbaum, were chosen as 2016 Attorneys of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer. Sagehorn, a former honor student and two-sport varsity captain who was suspended, expelled, and forced to withdraw from Rogers High School because of a two-word, sarcastic tweet he posted outside of school hours, off school grounds, and without using any school property. The team sued the school district, superintendent, assistant superintendent, and the principal for violating Reid’s First Amendment right to free speech, and they also sued the Rogers Police Chief for defaming Reid by falsely and continuously reporting to the media that Reid, a minor at the time, committed a crime punishable by up to a felony.
The defendants each filed motions asking the Court to dismiss the lawsuit. In a 45-page opinion, U.S. District Chief Judge Tunheim rejected all of the school defendants’ arguments and held that Reid’s constitutional claims against the school defendants and his defamation claim against the police chief were supported by the law and were to proceed. Defendants subsequently settled the matter for a total of $425,000.
Click here to view the Attorneys of the Year 2016 digital edition.
With all the recent media coverage of police misconduct, there are a lot of myths concerning your individual rights when stopped or arrested by a police officer. In order to prevent misconceptions that can damage your ability to protect yourself from police misconduct, here are four legal myths every citizen should know.
Myth: The police must read you your Miranda rights.
This is a myth that is perpetuated by law enforcement shows and movies, as many people envision a cop physically reading them their rights before being put in handcuffs. In actuality, the Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona that a police officer must let a criminal defendant know what their rights are, but only after they have been arrested.
Myth: You must speak to the police.
Untrue, although police officers are trained to make you feel as though you have to answer their questions. You have the right to remain silent during the entire process. You do not have to speak to the arresting officer if you do not feel comfortable. However, it is important to remember that if you choose to talk you should be completely honest and tell the truth.
Myth: All police use entrapment to get what they want.
One of the most controversial forms of police misconduct is entrapment, which is typically when a member of law enforcement uses coercion to get someone to commit a crime. However, there is a very fine line between legal undercover work and outright entrapment. If you are concerned you have been a victim of police entrapment, make sure to contact an excessive force and police brutality lawyer to represent you.
Myth: Cases always go to trial.
Many defendants believe that if they are arrested, they automatically have to deal with the court system. However, criminal defense lawyers will often meet with prosecutors to develop a plea bargain without the need for a jury trial. Likewise, civil cases rarely go to trial. Only about 4 to 5% of personal injury lawsuits end up before a jury. In the same way, police misconduct attorneys will try to meet with police officials to reach a settlement.
It is important to remember your rights when you are arrested, so keep these myths in mind if you ever find yourself in a bad situation with law enforcement. And, as always, contact civil rights attorneys if you believe your constitutional rights were violated during an encounter with the police.