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Excessive Force in Massachusetts

Can you sue for Excessive Force in Massachusetts During an Arrest or Encounter With the Police?

Officers are sometimes required to use objectively reasonable force when arresting a suspect. However, when this use of force is excessive or unjust, this is a violation of civil rights. There is no bright line rule that determines what level of force is considered acceptable, but there is a balancing test that can be used. In order to determine whether the force used to carry out an arrest was reasonable the force must be balanced against the government’s interests. In other words, both the individuals rights under the Fourth Amendment must be weighed against the governmental interests of policing. Whether the force was unreasonable often depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the arrest. These factors include the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989).

The officer’s intentions or motivations behind the force is not taken into consideration, so it does not matter to the law that the officer had good or evil intentions behind his force.

A glaring issue with using factors such as the ones just listed is that they are incredibly subjective. We see all too often that some officers will almost always claim that they were in danger or feared for their life in order to justify grossly excessive force.

In theory, a person being arrested under excessive force does have a right to self-defense. Excessive force by a police officer triggers this right. But, in practice, it is almost nonexistent. The line between self-defense and resisting arrest is a blurry one, and many times, the court will side with the police offers. In order for a jury to get instructions on self-defense, the case must be very serious. For example, in Com. v. Graham, 818 N.E.2d 1069 (2004) the defendant testified that he thought he was going to be killed. The force used by police caused him to lose two teeth, suffer deep laceration on his lip, numerous bruises and abrasions, lose consciousness, and remain at hospital for three days. Unfortunately, it is this severity of force that warrants a self-defense jury instruction.


In Bird v. City of New Bedford, No. CV 17-12159-FDS, 2019 WL 4394914 (D. Mass. Sept. 13, 2019) two officers beat Bird after an altercation at a bowling alley. Officer O'Shea came over and held his arms while Officer Demers began striking him in the face, causing him to fall to the ground and sustain injuries to his face and head, including a broken nose. The court in this case found that the officer’s actions were objectively unreasonable, and that they were not entitled to qualified immunity as to the excessive force claim.

Another example includes Bryan v. MacPherson were an officer deployed his taser against Bryan during a traffic stop over a seatbelt infraction. The electrical current immobilized him whereupon he fell face first into the ground, fracturing four teeth and suffering facial contusions. In addition, one of the taser’s barbed probe lodged in his arm, requiring hospitalization so that a doctor could remove the probe with a scalpel. The Ninth Circuit held that the use of a taser was unconstitutionally excessive, but that Bryan’s constitutional rights were not clearly established. Officer MacPherson was also entitled to qualified immunity in this case.

Excessive Force Case in Boston

The First Circuit has held that a two Boston police officers used excessive force when they pursued a motorcyclist for not wearing a helmet and slammed his head on the pavement twice. Raiche v. Pietroski, 623 F.3d 30 (1st Cir. 2010). Each case is different, and the outcome of the case is heavily specific to the facts of each incident.

When you claim that your civil rights are violated, you need a lawyer prepared to stand up to the police department and ready to take your case to trial. A claim of excessive force will not be quickly settled but will require you to have a lawyer ready to go to trial. Until the Police department believes you are prepared to take the case all the way, you are unlikely to receive a significant settlement. Let the Lawyers at DelSignore Law help you protect and unhold your civil rights; Call or Text anytime at 781-686-5924. It is never too early or late to call; we are here to help you get your life back together and to stand up for you in court.

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