If you were unlawfully arrested or detained after an encounter with the police you believe was due only to your race, gender, or another protected category, you might be wondering what to do next. Can you file a lawsuit with the city or county to seek damages for your experience? Should you consult a civil rights bureau -- or just call the local news? Read on to learn more about how you can protect yourself if your civil rights have been violated by a law enforcement officer.

What laws exist to protect you from police misconduct?

Many of the first civil rights laws passed were done so in order to protect U.S. citizens from abuses of power by the government, including law enforcement. There are a number of federal and state laws that will provide you with a civil cause of action if your rights have been violated. These include:

  • Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- this Amendment protects all citizens against unreasonable searches, seizures, and deprivation of property by the government or police.
  • Section 1983 (Title 42, U.S. Code) -- Commonly referred to as a "1983 claim," this law protects citizens against the deprivation of their constitutional rights by anyone acting under authority of the state.
  • Various city and county civil rights regulations that supplement existing federal and state laws.

What should you do if you've been the victim of police misconduct?

If you've been assaulted or otherwise had your civil rights violated by a sworn officer, your first step should be to consult an attorney who is experienced in 1983 litigation. This attorney will evaluate the merits of your claim and be able to indicate its chances of success.

In many cases, your attorney will request that the police department turn over all documents related to the incident and interview the officers involved under oath. Called a "deposition," this sworn interview will help your attorney determine which questions to ask the officers while they are testifying in their defense. Depending upon the testimony offered at the deposition, your attorney may recommend that you avoid settling and go for a jury verdict, or attempt to work out the issue without seeing the inside of a courtroom.

If you determine that filing a lawsuit is your best option, you should avoid speaking to the press about the incident. Any media coverage (positive or negative) can make it harder for you to get an impartial group of jurors in an eventual trial. To learn more, go to site