At some point in your life, you will likely be questioned by the police, whether about something you witnessed or something you are being accused of doing. If you’ve witnessed a car accident or crime of some sort, you should give a statement to the police. But if there is any chance at all that they suspect you of something, it’s important to know your civil rights with regards to answering their questions. If the police believe you have information that they need, they won’t volunteer that information unless they are arresting you and reading your Miranda rights. They often count on people not knowing their rights when in these situations. The main thing to remember is that you have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present, even if you aren’t being arrested.
The police also count on our basic human nature when it comes to answering questions, and in an interrogation room they know all the tricks. Here’s the problem: “When your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can’t contemplate anything else.” (“Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?“, Fast Company) Once someone asks you a question, your brain immediately starts working on the answer whether you want to answer it or not. And our brains can only think about one idea at a time, so the police know that asking questions can mess with our thought processes. So the hard thing is knowing how and when to keep quiet even though your brain is focusing on nothing other than the questions the police are asking you.
The Fourth Amendment
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
When being questioned by the police, the main thing that protects you is the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment. The police need reasonable suspicion if they are going to stop you, whether you are driving or just walking down the street. If they want to arrest you or search your car, they must have probable cause. If they want to search your home, they need a warrant or exigent circumstances. If they don’t have any of these things, they must get consent and that’s why it’s important to know your rights and keep quiet. For example, just because the police pulled you over doesn’t mean they have the right to search your car so they’re going to try to get your consent. They often make it seem like no big deal and say something like, “Hey, do you mind if we take a quick look in your car?” When you think you haven’t done anything wrong, your defenses are down and you aren’t thinking about protecting yourself. And sometimes they will take the assumptive approach and just tell you that they are going to search your car, knowing that a lot of people will just let them. So remember never to consent to a search even if you are innocent. If they try to give you a hard time about it, just tell them that your lawyer told you to never consent to a search without a warrant.
How to act while being questioned by the police
The main thing to do when being questioned by the police is remain calm and respectful. The police will often try to say or do things to make you angry or even scared because they know that’s when people lose control and end up saying things they shouldn’t. Your actions while angry could also give them probable cause to do a search so do everything you can to remain calm and in control. And definitely resist the urge to argue with them because they are very well trained in that art form and it rarely ends well for you.
Once you are calm, simply ask the officer if you are being detained. If they say no, ask if you are free to leave. If they say you are, then simply walk away. Don’t run or do anything to escalate the situation, and don’t taunt them or respond to their taunts. If the police suspect you of doing something or believe that you have information they want, they will continue to try to get you to react in some way that gives them reason to detain you.
What to do if you are detained
Being detained is not the same as being arrested, but that can still happen so it’s vital to know your rights. If they say you are being detained, ask for how long. They can’t detain you for an unreasonable amount of time without probable cause so this is an important question to ask because it lets them know that you are aware of this right. Once they tell you how long you are being detained, ask them why. Again, you have a right to know why they are detaining you and they must have reasonable suspicion to do so.
Another important thing to remember when being detained is that you also have a right to know the officer’s name and badge number. Most Colorado law enforcement agencies require the officer to give you their business card when requested. In addition, they can’t retaliate in any way just because you asked them for this information.
If you are pulled over and then detained, they will often ask if they can search your car. Ask if they have a search warrant and if they say no, calmly say that you do not consent for them to search your car. Once again, it’s important to be respectful and stay in control so that you don’t give them a reason to do a search. When being detained or even just stopped on the street, many states allow officers to do a pat down to be sure you aren’t carrying any weapons, but any search beyond that requires a warrant, exigent circumstances, or your consent — so don’t give that to them.
While you are detained and being questioned by the police, the main thing to remember is that you have the right to remain silent. Aside from telling the officer your name and possibly your address, you don’t have to answer any other questions. If you are being detained after a traffic stop, you are required to provide insurance and registration in addition to your ID, but you are still not required to answer any other questions like where you are going or what you are doing. However, you do have the right to ask questions so don’t be afraid to ask them why they stopped you, why they are questioning you, and if you have the right to leave.
Many innocent people are in prison simply because they started talking to the police. We wrongly believe that only guilty people stay silent and that the innocent will always try to help by answering questions. In fact, the police will use this against you and often say something like, “If you haven’t done anything wrong then you don’t have anything to fear.” They know it’s in our nature to answer questions, especially if we don’t think there’s any harm in doing so. But if the police have detained you then they already suspect that you are guilty of something so don’t give them any help in that regard. If they arrest you, they will often read you your Miranda rights and remind you of that — but not always — so remember that you still have that right even if you are only being detained. It’s also important to remember than choosing to remain silent does not give them probable cause to do a search. So stay calm and shut up. And if for some reason you do decide to talk, you have the right for an attorney to be present so request that before saying anything.
Were your rights violated while being questioned by the police?
If you believe that your rights were violated then it’s important that you contact a civil rights attorney who is experienced in dealing with the police. We work diligently to ensure police accountability and fight those who violate your civil rights. For a free, no-obligation consultation with the Civil Rights Litigation Group, contact our Denver CO law firm today at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form.
What Does the Fourth Amendment Mean? (uscourts.gov)
Know Your Rights (ACLU)
Police misconduct and your civil rights
Police accountability improving in Colorado
If you feel your civil rights have been violated, you will want to gather evidence to show that you have a case. In fact, obtaining information before you contact a lawyer is a good idea because many attorneys will want to see that information before deciding on whether to take on your case. The type of evidence and information your attorney needs is fairly straightforward, but the more you are prepared, the easier it will be. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a private investigator or CSI fan to gather evidence — everything we’ve listed below is available from public records. Remember: the sooner you get all the evidence to your attorney, the faster the case can be reviewed and then you and your attorney can move forward with your case.
The initial statement
Before you start to gather evidence, the first thing we recommend is to write out a detailed statement for your attorney describing everything about your case, such as:
- What date(s) did the incident(s) occur? If there were multiple incidents, describe each one in a timeline format, starting with the date of each incident, and include all details about each incident by date.
- Everything that was said and done between you and the person(s) involved. Who was involved? What department or company were they working for at the time? What happened during the incident?
- Who was involved? Are there any witnesses and, if so, include their contact information and what you believe they would say if called to provide testimony.
- Identify corroborating evidence. Do you have any corroborating evidence regarding the incident that helps show your version of events is more accurate than othe persons, such as emails, voicemails, texts, video or audio recordings, etc.? Colorado is a one-party consent-to-record state. Generally, people have a right to audio-record as long as one party to a conversation (usually you) consents to the recording. Thus, typically, other people do not need to consent for you to record legally. 
- How were your rights violated? If a police, jail, prison or corporate official violated your rights, identify (to the best of your ability) who that was and what they did that makes you believe the conduct at issue violated your rights.
As time passes, so do the memories of some important details. Writing down this information for your attorney can help you remember and serve as a reminder for you and/or your attorney later.
On that note, see our previous blog post on how long a civil rights case takes.
How to gather evidence regarding injuries and/or medical records
If your case involves injuries, you will want to document your injuries with photographs, video, and/or going to see a qualified medical provider. If you were taken to a hospital or see a medical provider, you can contact them directly and request disclosure of your medical records from the provider’s records department by filling out a HIPAA-Compliant request/release of records. If you were injured while in jail and treated there, you can get medical records either from the Colorado Department of Corrections or the county jail in the city where you were held. Once you call, always ask to be transferred to the records department before you make a records request and fill out the appropriate forms to request your records.
How to gather evidence from the police, sheriff’s department, jail or other law enforcement agency
If you are pursuing a civil rights case that involves the police, you are allowed to gather evidence from law enforcement agency records departments. Typically, criminal justice and/or police records are public information. Police agencies cannot unreasonably withhold this type of information (whether requested by you or someone on your behalf), if you request it properly, including:
- Police or jail records showing arrests, detentions, booking/releases, the time you spent in jail, and/or any incident reports regarding specific incidents or occurrences.
- Video footage of you, including body cameras, surveillance video, or video taken by third parties that was obtained by law enforcement authorities.
- Any police reports on your case, including dispatch records and body camera reports.
How do I get my records from the police department sheriff’s department, jail or other law enforcement agencies
Every state is different, but the first thing you need to do is contact the police agency involved and ask for the records department. Then you will need to fill out a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request (for federal agencies) or a CORA/CCJRA (Colorado Open Records Act/ Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act) request for local police departments to obtain your records. The Colorado Open Records Act (1968), gives the public access to all government records except criminal justice records. Here’s a good article describing the difference between CORA and CCJRA requests and how to file them when you need to gather evidence. Usually, a person requesting records should do so by noting your right to records under CORA and/or the CCJRA, or simply by filling out and submitting the agency forms for such requests.
Occasionally, there may be some fees associated with obtaining these records based on the number of pages you request, or the time required to investigate and locate information. But this usually only occurs when there is a lot of information requested. In many cases you can request a fee waiver. In Colorado, you can get the fee information on the Attorney General’s website and on the CORA website, which has links to the forms that you will need to fill out (see the general CORA request form or the CORA Information and Procedure website for request procedures).
Here are some other agencies you can contact to obtain records and gather evidence:
DORA Public Information and Records: Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see a list of all the CORA Custodians who can help with specific types of records, such as the Civil Rights Division. This website is specific to Colorado.
City and County of Denver Police Records: On this website, you can request many types of police records, such as arrest records and photos, accident and offense reports, 911 recordings, investigation reports, and audio and video recordings. Some of these records require a fee, which is listed on the site, and most can be ordered online. If you are in another county, look up the county name and ‘police records’.
Colorado Court Records: On this site, you can look up court documents in Colorado.
Colorado Department of Corrections: You can look up offender records for the state. On the City and County of Denver website, you can look up inmates being held in Denver jails.
A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies: This website has a complete list of all U.S. agencies, including contact information, for any FOIA requests.
How to find the right attorney
If you believe your rights have been violated, whether it’s discrimination or police misconduct or any other civil rights matter, it’s important for you to contact an attorney who specializes in civil rights cases as soon as possible. Many claims have a statute of limitations, so time is of the essence. The Civil Rights Litigation Group has successfully handled many civil rights cases over the past 10 years and we are 100% dedicated to civil rights issues. We offer free consultations so you can find out if you have a legitimate case. Please call us at 720-515-6165.
Call 720-515-6165 for a free consultation.
 This may not always be available, for example if your company or department specifically prohibits all recording due to sensitive security concerns.
Over the summer, Denver saw weeks of protests in reaction to the death of George Floyd. And, unfortunately, some police brutality. The majority of the protests in Denver centered around the Capitol and while most people came to protest peacefully, violence erupted, and many people were injured or exposed to chemical weapons. It now appears that protesters might not be as blameworthy as had been previously reported. A recent investigation has found that police may have needlessly caused some of the violence.
Police brutality and the Denver Police Department (DPD)
A recent article from Denverite (Police officers acted dangerously and anonymously during protests against police brutality and racism, investigation finds) discusses a recent investigation regarding the DPD’s response to the protests. The investigation found that the police used “unwarranted and reckless violence” and that “a lack of body camera footage and missing or vague documentation amounted to a mismanaged response from the very institution being protested.” There have been instances where the police violated their own polices by not giving orders to the crowds to disperse before using pepper spray, pepper balls, and other weapons — often recklessly. It also found that officers continued to use chemical weapons and explosives after people had started to disperse, and that some of the officers hadn’t been trained to use those weapons.
The investigation and report are from The Office of the Independent Monitor, which is “charged with working to ensure accountability, effectiveness, and transparency in the Denver Police and Sheriff disciplinary processes.” The biggest problem they found regarding the actions taken during the protests was the lack of transparency. Body camera were frequently left off. Video footage was frequently not uploaded, and officers didn’t file use-of-force reports. Many officers failed to identify themselves and/or display their badge numbers. DPD even failed to document which officers was deployed during the first four days of the protest. That makes it difficult to assess blame in the more than 100 complaints received of officer misconduct. But mostly, the report found that the Denver Police Department needs to reform its use of force, body camera practices, and officer use of specific weapons.
Were you a victim of police brutality at the protests?
If you were injured by the unnecessary force of police officers during the protests this summer, we would like to hear your story. Police brutality is illegal and officers do not have the right to violate your constitutional rights. If the police have violated your rights and caused injuries, you may be able to file a claim to recover damages fight to ensure justice is served A civil rights attorney can help you determine whether a civil rights action should be filed.
If you or a loved one are the victims of police brutality or other law enforcement abuses, call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form. Schedule your free consultation with a Denver civil rights attorney today.
Additional articles and resources:
Denver police use chemicals to deter people protesting police violence as downtown erupts in chaos
Office of the Independent Monitor
Attorneys hint at massive lawsuit against Denver for police department’s response to summer protests
Additional posts on this topic:
What are my rights if I protest the police?
Police brutality cases in Colorado and your rights
How do I report police brutality in Denver?
When people think about police misconduct, the first thing that comes to mind is usually police brutality — and that’s understandable considering the vast amount of press coverage from cases like George Floyd this year. But there are many other ways that the police can and have engaged in illegal conduct and have violated people’s civil rights. It is important to understand what they can and can’t do so that you can protect yourself.
Witness tampering and police misconduct
There have been many examples of the police getting caught in bad situations and then attempting to coerce witnesses to change how the evidence looks – for the police and the people police arrest. In Maui in 2015, Anthony Maldonado was accused of stealing $1800 from a person he had stopped. That right there is a crime, but after the victim reported it, Maldonado and several other officers tried to bribe the person to withdraw the complaint. Maldonado eventually pled guilty to witness tampering.
It is absolutely illegal for an officer to attempt use their power or authority as a police officer to attempt to get a witness to change their true testimony to something false or to unduly influence a complaining party to withdraw a complaint. But it happens all the time as officers have power and many people fall victim to their threats.
This type of misconduct can lead to criminal sanctions and even civil rights lawsuits for damages, if the conduct violates a persons’ constitutional rights.
Planting or fabricating evidence
If a case isn’t looking the way an officer thinks it should, they may decide to plant, fabricate, remove, or lie about evidence. One such example involves Richard Pinheiro, an officer in the Baltimore Police Department. His body camera actually caught him tampering with evidence at a crime scene. Unfortunately, fabricating evidence is a misdemeanor in Maryland so even though he was convicted, he is still on the job. Incidents like this also highlight the issue of bad cops being allowed to remain on the job.
Another example involved Michael Slager, an officer in North Charleston who shot and killed Walter Scott and then planted a taser near his body to back up his story that Scott was armed. Slager eventually received a 20-year sentence after a man came forward with a cellphone recording of the incident. Had a passerby not filmed the encounter, Slager likely would have gotten away with his crimes. This is one more example of why you should always record any police encounters you may witness.
This type of misconduct can lead to criminal sanctions if it is revealed, and possibly civil rights lawsuits for damages if the conduct violates a persons’ constitutional rights – such as when the lies/fabrications cause a person to be improperly jailed and/or prosecuted for a crime they didn’t commit.
When does police misconduct violate my civil rights?
While the behaviors mentioned above are definitely illegal, they do not always involve civil rights violations. For example, the most common civil rights violation applicable to manipulating or fabricating evidence is wrongful prosecution. However, in order to make that type of civil rights claim, there are several things you must be able to prove. For example, you must be able to show that the officer caused or continued a criminal prosecution where there was no probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed in the first place. You must also show that the officer created, planted, or lied about evidence that the prosecution relied on to prosecute the case. The criminal case against you must legitimately be terminated in your favor. You also have to be able to prove that the officer did all of this with malice and that it caused some sort of injury.
Reporting this type of misconduct so that appropriate criminal sanctions can be taken against officers is often the first step to getting bad officers removed from the police force. Filing civil rights lawsuits in appropriate circumstances is key to obtaining compensation when your rights have been violated. If you are faced with such circumstances, you want a lawyer that is 100% dedicated to understanding and helping you navigate these types of complexities.
We are here to help with protecting your civil rights
If you have experienced problems with your civil rights being violated by the police, please give us a call. We work diligently to protect civil rights. For a free, no-obligation consultation with the Civil Rights Litigation Group, contact our Denver CO law firm today at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form.
Colorado has one of the worst rates of police shootings in the country. And the record on police accountability is just as bad:
“In all but two of the 309 cases in six years, officers’ actions were legally justified by district attorneys or grand juries.”
It will increase police transparency and accountability by requiring body cameras
On or before July 1, 2023, the bill requires all law enforcement agencies in the state of Colorado to wear and use body-worn cameras during interactions with everyday people.
“A peace officer shall wear and activate a body-worn camera when responding to a call for service or during any interaction with the public initiated by the peace officer, when enforcing the law or investigating possible violations of the law.“
Not only will all officers be required to wear body cameras, but those that do can face penalties for turning off or tampering with the cameras. Also, departments will be required to release footage within 21 days after a misconduct allegation. We highly recommend that you make complaints of misconduct with the Internal Affairs Division of any police agency who you believe may have committed misconduct.
The bill limits use of chokeholds
Any type of chokehold or carotid hold will be banned unless absolutely necessary, and only when dealing with violent offenses. Officers will not be allowed to use deadly force against anyone suspected of a minor or nonviolent offense.
Police will be required to intervene to prevent excessive force or face new penalties for the ‘failure to intervene’
One of the biggest problems with the current system of police accountability is that supposed good cops often stand by while bad cops assault or even kill people, as was the case with George Floyd in Minneapolis. Under the new law, officers who fail to stop other officers from using unnecessary excessive force could face new charges. There are also provisions to protect those officers from retaliation when they do intervene.
New database will keep a record of police misconduct and problem police officers to improve police accountability
In the past, many officers were able to remain on the force because misconduct violations were often erased from their records after a short amount of time, eliminating any possibility for police accountability. Even for serious offenses, they could simply move to a different state and get hired by a new department. Starting on January 1, 2022, this new database will require a database entry be made for any officer who has been fired, decertified, found to have lied, or failed to follow training requirements. Also, any officer who is convicted of (or pleads guilty to) using excessive force, failure to intervene to stop excessive force, would permanently lose their Peace Officer Standards and Training board certification, which is required to serve as a peace officer in Colorado.
While the bill still leaves open a gaping loophole for officers who choose to quit amid investigation of police misconduct against them, it does require a new level of documentation so that problem officers can be identified and police accountability can be improved.
The Qualified Immunity Defense will be removed for violations of the Colorado State Constitution and officers will be made to pay
Until now, one of the biggest issues with police accountability is that officers were shielded from liability for novel ways in which they could think up or act to violate the constitutional rights of victims. Qualified immunity, under federal law, completely shields officers from liability when the same, precise, conduct has not been held to be a violation of someone’s rights in prior appellate decisions. Even worse, appellate courts could avoid making any determinations of whether an officer’s conduct violated the constitution merely by pointing to a lack of prior cases that fail to examine that exact conduct, because it had not been “clearly established,” beyond debate,” to “every police officer” before. As you might imagine, this led to a catch-22 in which officers have been let off the hook in litigation for excessive force in a whopping 57% of cases.
The new bill will allow people to file civil rights violations against officers individually for violations of the Colorado Constitution and qualified immunity may not be invoked as a defense in such state actions. Many of the same rights afforded by the federal Constitution are also enshrined in our state Constitution. Moreover, under this new law, individual officers will be forced to pay a small portion of judgments against them, instead of leaving it completely up to the city or county that employs them.
“If the peace officer’s employer determines the officer did not act upon a good faith and reasonable belief that the action was lawful, then the peace officer is personally liable for 5 percent of the judgment or $25,000, whichever is less, unless the judgment is uncollectible from the officer, then the officer’s employer satisfies the whole judgment.” (Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity bill, Colorado General Assembly)
Police accountability at protests
In direct response to the recent protests in Denver, the new bill prohibits officers from using any kind of chemical irritant like tear gas or pepper spray without first sufficiently announcing it and then giving people enough time to leave and get to safety. It also prohibits them from indiscriminately firing rubber bullets into crowds, as well as specifically at people’s heads, torsos, and backs. Rubber bullets have been shown to cause serious injuries.
We are here to help if you are the victim of police misconduct or violence
If you have been the victim of police misconduct, please give us a call. We work diligently to ensure police accountability and fight those who violate your civil rights. For a free, no-obligation consultation with the Civil Rights Litigation Group, contact our Denver CO law firm today at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form.
The most important thing to remember is that the First Amendment guarantees every person in America the right to peacefully assemble and protest.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The right to protest is valued in our country and has led to many substantial changes over the past 200 years, such as the Civil Rights Act. When outrageous police abuse occurs — such as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis or the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles — that conduct affects us all. Exercising your right to speak up and to protest could foster recognition, awareness, and much needed change in the future.
However, it’s important to remember that the Supreme Court has recognized limits to the exercise of our rights – when they could affect the rights of others. Just like freedom of speech doesn’t provide the right to publicly lie about someone or the right to yell fire in a crowded theater, the right to assemble does not mean that a protester has cart-blanche protection to commit otherwise illegal acts, such as vandalism, and there could be criminal repercussions for those who harm others.
Also, current law permits “reasonable time, place, and manner” restrictions by governments to limit some of the unintended adverse effects of those who gather to speak in local communities. Legal interpretations of what constitutes “reasonable” time, place and manner restrictions can be nuanced, but they usually permit municipal action to do things like restrict protesters from marching down the middle of busy streets or instituting non-discriminatory curfews to curb looting and vandalism. Protesters have more leeway regarding location and time when a protest is spontaneous, such as immediately after a major incident occurs that calls for public outcry, like the events in recent days. However, the protection for spontaneous association will likely be subject to greater “time, place, and manner” restrictions after initial protests erupt and/or after public safety concerns surface.
When can the police interfere with protests?
If a protest escalates to include violence and property damage, local law enforcement has the legal authority to intervene to quell that violence or to arrest perpetrators. They may also have the legal authority to stop protests on private property, those organized without a permit, or those that block public rights of way, such as on an interstate or major street.
As to the time or duration of protests, law enforcement can intervene if a curfew has been legally established and police have given you warning, time, and opportunity to safely leave. Police should act only to apply limited restrictions in a non-discriminatory and even-handed manner.
What am I allowed to record at a protest?
There have been a lot of contrary opinions written regarding what citizens can and can’t record, with respect to the police. And while some states have limits on where you can post recordings with audio, the visual part of recordings is protected by the First Amendment and can be posted online and shared.
You have a First Amendment right to record the police while they are performing public duties. As long as you aren’t interfering with or threatening them, and stay a fair distance away from officers performing official functions, the police DO NOT have the legal authority to demand that you stop recording. In fact, it’s always a good idea to record any encounter with the police if you think things might go bad for anyone involved. Phone recordings have been key in prosecuting police misconduct in recent years, especially with the quality of video that most cell phones can produce. As Will Smith said, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
Also, the police cannot legally demand your phone or confiscate it without a warrant, and those take time to obtain because they have to be signed by a judge. They also don’t have the authority to tell you to delete a photo or video. If you feel a confrontation may occur — especially one involving force — many have suggested complying, handing over the device, and then filing a complaint with Internal Affairs, the Office of the Independent Monitor (in Denver), or legal organizations like the ACLU or with local lawyers. But you absolutely have the right to retain possession of your phone along with any video or photos. If nothing else, quickly send or upload the media to someone before handing over your phone so that it cannot be deleted. The ACLU has developed a smart phone application that – once activated – will record and automatically upload any video taken from that phone to the ACLU for safe-keeping and later review:
If you don’t like your own photo being taken or publicly shared, you should know that your presence at a public protest means you have given consent for your photo to be taken and potentially used, most commonly by the media. After-all, protests are meant to be matters of public interest. There are a few restrictions, but if you are uncomfortable with your photo showing up on social media or potentially the evening news, you should consider other forms of speech or wearing something that hides your identity.
What are the police allowed to do during a protest?
The first job of the police is to protect your right to peacefully assemble — both they and public officials have taken a vow to uphold the Constitution. If you are acting reasonably, within the confines of the law, then they have no authority to act against you or restrain you in any way. However, they are also charged with maintaining order and upholding the law, so if protesters or infiltrators start being violent or causing damage then the police will most likely take action. The concern for all of us is what form that action takes and whether it is proportionate to the public policy and/or legal justifications permitted under the law.
The main priority of police should be to de-escalate violence, but it has been shown time and again that the police often are the cause of violence. For example, if they start dropping tear gas canisters and firing rubber bullets at peaceful protesters before curfew has started, and without any legal and/or legitimate purpose, then they could be found liable for use of excessive force. This is one of the times when it is important to always be recording police on your phone.
What should I do if the police stop me or if I get arrested?
First of all, it’s always good to stay calm. Remember that sometimes the police just want to ask a question and you may not be suspected of doing anything wrong. The law permits police to ask questions without converting the contact into a seizure. Second, get your phone out and start recording. Finally, you always have the right to ask the police if you are being detained and/or free to go. If they indicate you are not being detained or are free to go, just calmly leave — you are under no obligation to speak to them. If they detain you, you have the right to ask why you are being detained.
If you are arrested or detained — whether justified or not — it’s best to remain calm and not resist. If other people are there, ask them to record everything they can. You do not have to speak to the police if you don’t want to — you have the right to remain silent. After you are booked, you will have the right to make a phone call so it’s a good idea to write a few numbers on your arm since your phone will be taken away. And it’s always a good idea to call a lawyer because while that conversation is privileged, the police do have the authority to listen in on calls to friends or family.
What should I do if I feel my rights were violated at a protest?
If you truly feel your rights were violated, the first step is always to gather evidence to support you. You have the right to sue for the violation of your rights and you should contact a civil rights attorney devoted to your rights. 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 of federal law permits those who are violated by official government actors (such as police) to seek redress in federal court. However, police officers are also covered by qualified immunity, which means they are shielded from civil liability if they didn’t break a clearly established law. That is one reason it is so important to record any interaction with the police as many of them are still not required to wear body cameras. Recordings remove much of the grey area of “he said, she said” when courts are charged with determining who is telling the truth. Video doesn’t lie.
We are here to help with protecting your Constitutional right to protest
If you have experienced problems with your civil rights being violated during a protest, please give us a call. We work diligently to protect constitutional rights. For a free, no-obligation consultation with the Civil Rights Litigation Group, contact our Denver CO law firm today at (720) 515-6165 or use our online contact form.