The use of excessive force by police violates the Constitution. Working with nationally-renowned experts, Budge & Heipt has successfully litigated cases involving all of these types of excessive police force. We have successfully litigated cases involving the excessive use of such force by law enforcement officers of cities, counties and states. We have received some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the country for victims of wrongful death by police. Our success is directly related to our hard work and passion for what we do.

Budge & Heipt is a law firm committed to obtaining justice for victims and their families.  Achieving justice requires answers and accountability. Getting those answers and navigating the court process without an experienced law firm can be a daunting prospect. We work hard to find answers and hold law enforcement agencies accountable when the use of excessive force causes serious injury or wrongful death. We hold ourselves to high standards of ethical conduct and demand answers from law enforcement agencies and police officers. We are proud of the fact that our work can force law enforcement agencies to change for the better and bring justice to victims and family members who have lost a loved one due to excessive police force.

What are the first steps we take at Budge & Heipt when considering a civil lawsuit arising from wrongful death by police? We usually begin by reviewing all available information, such as police reports, investigative documents, newspaper articles, and other sources of information. While some of this information is not completely reliable, reviewing it can at least give us a sense of what occurred. In many cases, it is necessary to “read between the lines” by using our experience in other cases to discern what might have happened even if the true facts are not readily apparent. When the information we see leads us to believe that a person’s death might have been caused by the wrongful act of a police officer, we then consider the next steps in the process.

Often, it is necessary to form a legal estate on behalf of the deceased victim and seek the appointment of a person to act as the decedent’s “personal representative” or administrator. If the death occurred in Washington state, we will usually act to set up the estate ourselves—a relatively simple process that can generally be completed in a matter of weeks. If the death occurred in another state, we may work with local counsel in that state to complete these initial steps. Once we have a court order appointing a personal representative, we are then in a better position to seek information that might have been off-limits to that point.

If we decide to file a lawsuit against the police on behalf of the decedent’s estate, we will usually file on behalf of the personal representative. Under some circumstances, and depending on the jurisdiction, individual family members (such as a spouse, child, or parent) might be individually named in the lawsuit as well. We will begin the lawsuit with a detailed pleading called a “complaint” in which we identify the defendant-officers (and sometimes the county or city for which they work) and in which we set out detailed allegations about what occurred leading up to and surrounding the incident that caused the decedent’s death.

Shortly after the lawsuit is filed and attorneys appear to represent the defendant-officers, we can then engage in a process called “discovery” under the court’s rules. We can then pose certain questions to police officers and others via written “interrogatories,” and we demand documents, recordings, and other information by way of written demands called “requests for production.” We can ask for the officer’s personnel file and training records. We can explore whether there are records indicating that the officer has used too much force in the past. We can demand specific information, such as videos or even seek to inspect physical evidence. And, if the attorneys for the defendant-officer refuses to produce information to which we believe we are entitled, we can request that the court order the information produced.

We also take depositions of police officers and others involved in the case—a process that is almost never available until after a lawsuit is filed. Depositions allow us to ask questions of witnesses (including officers, their supervisors, and others) under oath. The testimony is recorded (and sometimes videotaped), and we spend many hours preparing for these depositions so that they are conducted strategically and thoroughly. In a case involving death by a law enforcement officer, deposition testimony can be one of the most important pieces of evidence in the lawsuit.

The family and/or personal representative of the decedent may face legal motions by the defendant-officers. Motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment are common. At Budge & Heipt, we pride ourselves on our ability to thoroughly and persuasively respond to these motions since a successful motion for summary judgment could be fatal to the plaintiff’s case.

Overcoming defense motions to dismiss the case is critical—to do so, legal research, fact-gathering, and persuasive writing and analysis can make all the difference to the case.

As we move forward towards trial, there may be settlement negotiations. These can occur informally—where we talk to the attorneys representing the police officers—or they can occur more formally through a non-binding process called “mediation.” If we decide that mediation is in the best interests of our client, we will sometimes agree to participate. If we do so, we use care in selecting an experienced mediator and providing him or her with written submissions designed to explain our side of the case. We negotiate aggressively, and we are always prepared to proceed to trial if negotiation or mediation fails to achieve the result we believe to be in the best interests of our client.

At Budge & Heipt, we are never afraid to go to trial and present our case to a jury if we believe that course to be the best path. We have gone to trial against state troopers, city police, county sheriff’s deputies and government entities.

We prepare thoroughly before trial so that an honest but persuasive case can be presented to the jury. And we do so in a manner that respects the integrity of the process while advocating to the best of our ability. We believe preparation is key, and we have achieved excellent results. Having won millions of dollars at trial for victims of excessive force, we believe hard work and thorough preparation are essential to success.

If you would like to discuss a case involving excessive force, egregious injury, or  wrongful death by police, please contact us for a free consultation.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.