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Law Enforcement Liability

Hurrell Cantrall LLP has been providing legal services to the law enforcement community for almost two decades.  Our practice includes the defense of law enforcement officers and governmental entities against claims of civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful arrest, excessive force, and cruel-and-unusual punishments, as well as unconstitutional customs and practices under Monell and City of Canton, negligence, battery, false imprisonment, supervisory liability, and malicious prosecution.  We also routinely handle such claims under state law, including causes of action brought under the Bane Act, Ralph Act, and Unruh Civil Rights Act.  Additionally, we regularly defend against and oppose Pitchess motions brought by the plaintiffs and advise our clients on the legality of using force under the circumstances.  We also make recommendations on changes to policies to avoid future litigation.  

Our attorneys have specialized experience and knowledge involving claims of alleged constitutional deprivations, including violations of rights secured by the First, Fourth, Fifth,  Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.  Moreover, our attorneys are well versed in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Government Tort Claims Act and all available defenses and immunities, including those under federal law.  The firm has tried numerous of such cases to trial in state and federal courts, resulting in defense verdicts.  We have handled such matters in the trial court and appellate court level, including in the U.S. Supreme Court, where we have prevailed.  Mr. Hurrell and Ms. Cantrall were named as the Attorney of the Year in 2007 and 2003 respectively by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for their successes in litigating such cases.

We are routinely called upon by law enforcement entities or their in-house counsel to advise on a variety of legal issues affecting law enforcement officers, including specifically on topics involving use of force.  The law on use of force, and the applicability of qualified immunity in use of force incidents, is a frequently evolving area of law, particularly as technological advances results in the increased availability of new tools for officers.  For example, while electronic control weapons (ECW), such as tasers, have been available for use for over a decade, the legal questions surrounding the circumstances in which a taser may be used by law enforcement did not become clearer until the development of relatively recent case law.  Because inadequate or deficient law enforcement training may form a basis for a civil rights claim where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference, department policies play a crucial role in what training is mandated and how it is delivered.  Therefore, we are occasionally consulted for recommendations on best practices based on the evolving case law to reduce the risk of litigation, while ensuring that law enforcement officers are given the tools they need to protect themselves and the community they serve.  

Illustrative Cases

  • Defense verdict following a federal court trial where the plaintiff alleged unlawful arrest and excessive force resulting in a head injury after law-enforcement officers arrested him during a party at his home.

  • Summary judgment granted in favor of a municipality and deputies in a wrongful death action in an officer-involved shooting 

  • Motion to dismiss granted on behalf of our law enforcement officer-client in claims of unlawful arrest and detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment, unlawful failure to intervene in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, assault and battery, and negligence.

  • Defense verdict in a wrongful death action resulting from an officer-involved shooting

  • Defense verdict in an case alleging law enforcement officers used excessive force on an inmate.  The plaintiff sued the public entity and involved officers for violation of his civil rights and various state law claims.  On behalf of the entity, we filed a demurrer which was granted without leave to amend.  The action proceeded to trial against the individual defendants.  We argued that the force used was reasonable in light of the circumstances, which resulted in a defense verdict.  The plaintiff appealed and we handled the appeal.  The appellate court affirmed the verdict. 

  • Dismissal in a civil rights case where the plaintiffs alleged claims for violations of the Fourth Amendment for unlawful search/seizure, excessive force, conspiracy, assault/battery, negligent/intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision, violation of the Unruh/Bane Act, elder abuse, and child abuse

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