Should I File a Complaint Against A Police Officer?

April 10, 2015

Police officers work as public servants who “guard and serve” society by fighting crime.
However, occasionally people have improper interactions with patrol police, detectives, or sheriff’s deputies. For promotion within their department, law enforcement agents rely heavily on the number of arrests that result in prompt convictions. In order to advance within their department, such as from a patrol unit to a homicide detective, a police officer may have the incentive to violate someone’s constitutional rights in an effort to convict them in the future.

If a member of the public simply ignores a police officer’s unconstitutional acts without filing a complaint, the police officer will eventually carry the same conduct when they’re promoted and subject other members of the public to the same unlawful scrutiny.

There has been, more than ever, a growing concern over police officer misconduct around the United States mainly due to citizens capturing via mobile devices these illegal performances of officers beating and shooting unarmed suspects. It’s without a doubt that video evidence does not lie and often contradicts a police officer’s explanation for his or her acts. Yet government agencies still don’t pursue criminal perjury charges. In a recent media article, police departments around the country united to actually ask the public to stop recording them because it’s “making us [police officers] look bad.” Why would police departments ask the public to stop recording them? Probably because the public is now acknowledging the concern over law enforcement misconduct making the public second guess the departments who swear to “protect and serve.”

Filing a complaint against a police officer is substantially useful to those who have been victimized by unconstitutional misconduct and are now facing criminal charges. If a criminal defendant alleges police officer misconduct, they may file a trial court motion to unseal the personnel records of a police officer. A criminal defense attorney may review a complaint filed by someone and find it useful to their defense. For instance, a defense attorney may be arguing the police officer lied stating the suspect “consented” to search their vehicle where a bag of drugs was discovered. When an attorney obtains a complaint, often multiple, it may be useful in convincing the court that since the officer engaged in similar fashions of fabricating consent, it likely occurred under the current case. At times, individuals who have filed complaints may be asked to testify as to their experiences with that particular officer.

It should be duly noted that a police officer is unaware of the fact someone files a complaint against them nor are they permitted to access or review any complaints filed against them. Instead, obtaining a police officer’s personnel complaints take a court order that is more challenging and burdensome than one would expect – something only attorneys, not police officers, can obtain.


Dan is arrested for possession of marijuana. Dan alleges the police officer searched his car without any probable cause and over his objection. Dan explains to his attorney what happened and his attorney files a motion to unseal public complaints, particularly those who similarly complained about an unlawful search. The judge grants the motion and turns over 3 individuals who filed a complaint against the same officer all being subjected to an unlawful search. Dan’s attorney contacts those individuals who all say the same thing and are identical to Dan’s case. In this case, these 3 individuals would be useful for Dan’s defense of an unlawful search because they would testify that the police officer unlawfully searched their vehicle which would question the police officer’s credibility as a witness against Dan. Additionally, this is useful because a police officer almost always does not record anything therefore the evidence hinges on the police officer’s word over Dan’s.

Common Subjects of a Complaint

• Unlawful Search & Seizure
• Excessive Force
• Planting Evidence
• Fabricating Statements / Evidence
• Threats / Coercion
• Harassment
• Perjury

Contact an Experienced Newport Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer

For more information or if you have been victimized by law enforcement, contact an experienced Orange Count criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a free confidential consultation.

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