Rights for Police Brutality Whistleblowers

If I work in a police department, can I blow the whistle on police brutality?

Yes. State and local employees including those who work in law enforcement or for police departments can blow the whistle on matters of public concern. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this right in Pickering v. Board of Education.

What federal law should a police brutality whistleblower use?

The Civil Rights Act of 1871, codified at 42 U.S.C 1983, creates the cause of action for state and local whistleblowers including those who report police brutality.

What type of disclosures are covered for police brutality whistleblowers under The Civil Rights Act of 1871?

The leading case (Pickering v. Board of Education) protected disclosures to the press. Others have protected disclosures to a city council and other public bodies. However, internal whistleblowing to a supervisor, or reporting abuses as part of your job, may not be covered. There are also issues regarding how to file a lawful report when a case is still confidential or subject to an ongoing investigation. Before you make a report about police brutality, contact a knowledgeable civil rights or whistleblower lawyer.

What about sovereign immunity or the requirement to exhaust local remedies?

State agencies and some public officials may try to avoid liability under the sovereign immunity doctrine. Thus, it is best to always directly name the officials who were involved in the retaliation (and their entire chain of command) as defendants in a § 1983 retaliation lawsuit. Also, it is easier to directly sue a local or county police departments then directly suing state agencies, as state entities have greater immunities then local government bodies. These immunities are explained in Will v. Michigan. Also, generally you do not need to exhaust any local administrative procedures before you can file your whistleblower case directly in federal court. See Heck v. Humphrey.

What remedies are available to a whistleblower who suffers retaliation for reporting police brutality?

The Civil Rights Act of 1871 permits cases to be filed directly in federal court. There, you have a right to a jury trial, injunctive relief, and all economic damages, as well as compensatory damages and punitive damages. See  Swartzwedler v. McNeilly, Carey v. Piphus. If you prevail in your whistleblower case you also can require the defendants to pay attorney’s fees and costs. See Civil Rights Attorney Fee Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

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