On August 10, the city of Pleasanton, California, settled a wrongful death suit for $5.9 million. The victim in the case was Jacob Bauer, a 38-year-old man who was killed by police during a mental health crisis.
During a police interaction, people struggling with mental illness are 16 times more likely than other Americans to be killed by officers. In 2015—the last year that the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported data on this topic—at least 27% of all police shootings involved a person in a mental health crisis. The prevalence of police brutality in crisis response situations has led some experts to call for a shift away from law enforcement involvement in this area—but in many places, other options remain rare.
In Bauer’s case, his parents notified the local police department that he was in crisis, and they were assured that peaceful de-escalation tactics would be used to help him. Body-camera footage of the subsequent events, however, showed that Jacob Bauer was punched, kicked, hit with a baton, and tased by eight officers as they pinned him to the ground. During this onslaught, he repeatedly told officers that he could not breathe before ultimately losing consciousness and dying.
Under Section 1983, the Bauers filed a federal lawsuit against the city for the officers’ excessive use of force and deliberate indifference to their son’s need for emergency medical care. Section 1983 lawsuits like this one allow people whose constitutional rights were violated by state or local government officials to sue those officials in federal court. Where government policies are the cause of the violation to a person’s rights, then a state agency or local government entity can also be sued under Section 1983. This allowed the Bauers to sue the city of Pleasanton itself, claiming in their complaint that the customs and policies of the entire police department were responsible for the actions taken by the officers on that day.
Claims like these can be won, but are very complex and expensive to pursue successfully. If you or someone you know has been harmed by police brutality, excessive force, or any violation of our constitutional rights by a government official, you need a lawyer with a proven track record of success in constitutional rights cases. Contact our team of experienced constitutional rights attorneys for more information.