New York Officer’s Arrest Draws Attention to Police Misconduct

subpic3Nassau County Police Officer Garrett Mannerz is accused of using a traffic stop to obtain sexual gratification in February 2010. Mannerz is charged with official misconduct, receiving a bribe, coercion and sexual abuse for forcing a woman to grope him in exchange for not issuing a traffic ticket.

The alleged victim claims that during a routine traffic stop, the officer ordered the woman, who was a passenger, over to his patrol car where he grabbed her hand and forced her to touch him sexually. Hours later, Officer Mannerz made several sexually suggestive phone calls to the victim. If convicted, Mannerz faces up to seven years in prison.

The Many Faces of Misconduct

The Garrett Mannerz case illustrates a greater point. Police officers are entrusted with a significant amount of power and discretion in protecting the public. This heightened level of trust makes an abuse of that power even more egregious. While there are many forms of police misconduct that can be committed while the officer is either on or off duty, the following is a list of the most common and offensive claims:

  • Excessive force/Police brutality – By far the most common complaint of police misconduct (almost 24 percent of all claims), excessive force always garners significant attention. Excessive force claims are evaluated by examining the surrounding facts and circumstances. Emotions are usually high in these complaints, which allege an officer used more physical force than permissible against a civilian, because they frequently involve serious injuries or death.
  • Sexual misconduct -Sexual misconduct is the second most reported form of police misconduct. It includes not only on-duty, consensual sexual encounters, but off-duty child molestation and sexual assault. Incidents of non-consensual sexual conduct while in uniform are the most damaging to police.
  • False arrest – A police officer may constitutionally arrest someone if the officer believes there is probable cause the person committed a crime. Probable cause means there is enough evidence to make a reasonable person believe that a crime has been committed. Even if the officer later discovers the facts upon which the arrest was based were incorrect, there is no misconduct if a reasonable person would have believed the facts established a basis for arrest. An absence of probable cause must be shown to win a false arrest claim.
  • Bribes – As in Mannerz’s case, accepting any money, favor or benefit in exchange for a favorable use of an officer’s power or authority is a bribe. Bribes change the rule of law into the rule of the highest bidder and seriously undermine the public’s perception of police in general.

Section 1983 Claims

With great power comes great responsibility. Generally, police officers are protected from liability by official immunity. This protection bars individuals from suing police officers as long as they were doing their job in a legal manner. Their immunity evaporates, however, when their actions exceed the scope of their authority.
State and federal civil rights laws allow the victim recourse against an officer who has abused his or her power and violated the victim’s constitutional rights. Federally, claims can be made under Title 42, Section 1983 of the United States Code.

Police brutality, false arrests and other forms of police misconduct can be damaging physically as well as emotionally. These abuses can even have economic consequences for the victims and their families.

If you or a loved one believes a police officer has crossed the line and you have been physically hurt or traumatized by police misconduct, contact an experienced New York attorney for an evaluation of your potential claim and to discuss your situation and your rights.