Excessive force in jail is a reality. Police officers and jail guards wield tremendous power. It is a power given to them by us—the people. We the people give government agents the power to take a person out of his or her home, or car, or off the street. We give them the power to take away people, by force, and lock them up against their will—in a small cell—before they have even had a chance to tell their side of the story.
With that power, however, comes the potential for abuse. Although many police officers and jail guards do a good job and follow the constitutional boundaries of the law, not all do. Sometimes, the actions of a police officer or jail guard are so egregious that they demonstrate a reckless indifference to a citizen’s constitutional rights. Such was the case in the late 2000s, where the lawyers at Budge & Heipt represented the victim of excessive force in a city jail.
In 2008, a woman was arrested and brought to a jail in the City of Olympia, in Washington State. When she arrived in the jail, she was told by a male jail guard to remove her street clothes and change into a jail uniform. The woman agreed to do so, but only in the presence of a female officer. The jail guard refused her request and ordered her to comply in his presence. The woman knew her rights and stated that she would comply in the presence of a female guard only.
The male jail guard was either ignorant of the law (which prohibited male guards from having female detainees undress in front of them), or he knew about the law but chose to ignore it. Whether through sheer ignorance or an intentional disregard of the law, he then threatened the woman with the use of physical force. He told her that if she did not undress in front of him, he would use a taser to make her comply with his demands. Again, she refused. In response, the jail guard made good on his threat, shocking the woman with thousands of volts of electricity to force her into complying with his illegal order.
The woman hired Budge & Heipt to sue, and sue we did. It was our goal to win compensation for the woman and, at the same time, teach the City of Olympia and its officers a little about the consequences that come from blatantly violating citizens’ rights.
Eventually, Budge & Heipt forced the City of Olympia to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to the woman. The City internally acknowledged the wrongdoing of its officers and got a lesson in what happens when officers ignore the constitution and think that “might makes right.”
Erik Heipt is an experienced courtroom litigator, focusing on catastrophic injury or wrongful death in jail or prison or by police. He seeks justice for the families and victims of excessive force by police or while incarcerated. Contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation.