It may seem like the police are “above the law” but they, too, can be held liable for sexual assault in civil court. In fact, a civil lawsuit allows you the ability to sue more than the officer(s) who assaulted you, including other officers who turned a blind eye or deliberately covered it up. It’s not an easy battle to fight, but finding the right attorney who isn’t afraid to go up against a police department—or city—can be the first step in obtaining the justice you deserve.
Police Sexual Assault in California
In February of 2018, two Los Angeles police officers pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting multiple women, often preying on the victims while one partner served as the lookout and the other carried out an attack in their unmarked police car. In 2016, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office had filed more than a dozen felony counts against the men, alleging they targeted multiple women from 2008 to 2011 by forcing them to have sex.
After entering their no-contest pleas to two counts each of forcible rape and two counts each of forcible oral copulation, the judge handed down each man a 25-year term in state prison. The judge also ordered the officers to register as sex offenders. If tried and convicted, the men had faced a maximum penalty of life in prison.
All four women who accused the men of forcing them to have sex filed civil lawsuits. The city of Los Angeles agreed to pay the first victim $575,000, the second $750,000, the third $450,000, and the latest victim $1.8 million. The fourth woman’s payout was significantly higher due to the nature of the assaults and because the criminal case had wrapped up, resulting in a conviction.
You, too, can work with an experienced attorney to obtain a recovery on your behalf.
What Type of Recovery Can Be Obtained From a Police Sexual Assault Lawsuit?
Plaintiffs in police sexual assault lawsuits may be awarded:
- civil rights damages for sexual discrimination inflicted upon them by the assaulting officers
- actual compensatory damages for medical and therapy bills, lost wages, and other related expenses
- estimated non-compensatory damages for pain and suffering, including emotional distress
- punitive damages aimed at punishing the defendants in cases of gross negligence or intentional harm
Since so few victims of sexual assault have visible physical injuries and costly medical bills related to the offense, the bulk of damages you collect will likely be related to “pain and suffering” and “emotional distress.” Your attorney will focus on building a case that the officer’s conduct was extreme, outrageous, reckless, and intentional, while simultaneously building a case that this conduct caused severe and lasting emotional distress. Officers can be charged with intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Who Can I Sue For Police Sexual Assault?
There are two ways to pursue justice against a police officer: pressing criminal charges and filing a civil lawsuit. In order to have an officer arrested, you must appeal to the state district attorney’s office. The district attorney will investigate the charges and determine whether to make an arrest or not. You may be called upon as a witness to the “crimes against the state,” but not necessarily. The end result could lead to jail time, fines paid to the state, probation sanctions, and state sex offender registration. You may choose only to pursue criminal punishment or you may also pursue personal compensation by filing a civil lawsuit. Even if your criminal case falls flat in court, you can still win a civil case.
In civil court, you may also expand the scope of liability beyond the perpetrating officer(s) to include:
- the police department supervisors who were directly involved in covering up the incident
- the government that insures and employs the police officers (and has the means to pay)
You are subject to stricter rules under the California Tort Claims Act when suing a government entity such as a police department. Most notably, your deadline for filing is much shorter than with a typical sexual assault case.
Statutes of Limitations and Other Deadlines
The clock starts ticking as soon as the sexual assault occurs. Here are some deadlines to consider:
- 12-24 Hours: There may be a chance that the officer’s actions were captured on surveillance or dash cams. Most tapes are on an erasing loop every 12-24 hours. Private businesses may not be quick to turn over their tapes, so you will need an attorney who demands it. The sooner you get to crucial evidence like this, the better!
- 72 Hours: Immediately after an attack, head straight to a local hospital that provides a sexual assault forensic medical exam—also known as a rape kit—to have medical evidence collected and receive verifiable treatment for any acute injuries. DNA evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours in order to be analyzed by a crime lab—but a sexual assault forensic exam can reveal other forms of evidence beyond this time frame that can be useful if you decide to report.
- 100 Days: California police and state officials may destroy 9-1-1 emergency dispatch and police radio transmissions after 100 days, under California Government Code 34090.6. The government is obligated to keep these tapes longer if a tort claim has been filed.
- Six Months: California Government Code 910 requires that you file a “notice of claim” within six months from the date of the incident, stating your demands and preserving your right to file a lawsuit later on. Once you file a notice of claim, the municipality will have up to 45 days to respond. If the municipality accepts your claim, you may then file your lawsuit within six months of the response. If the municipality rejects it, you may still appeal.
- Two Years: If you neglect to file a tort claim on time, you may still be eligible to file a federal civil rights action within two years of the incident in the state of California.
Statute of limitations defenses are among the most common reasons for a lawsuit to be thrown out of court without a chance, so it is very important that you speak with an attorney as soon as you can. There are certain acceptable exceptions and tolling provisions, though they may be difficult to argue. If you were mentally incapacitated or incarcerated following the incident, you may receive additional filing time.
How California Sexual Assault Attorneys Can Help
If you were a victim of police sexual assault it’s understandable why you may be hesitant to come forward. While you seek justice, the police department’s goal may be to protect the reputation of its police force. Large organizations may try to silence survivors or turn a blind eye to sexual assault but a passionate attorney won’t stop fighting until justice is served. If you’ve decided to pursue litigation, an experienced legal representative can act as your advocate, providing counsel and empowering control over the course of the proceedings.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.