Court: police responsible for excessive force under Okla. constitution

A federal judge in Oklahoma City has concluded that a police officer can be individually liable for excessive force under the Oklahoma state constitution for actions taken outside the scope of their employment.

Police brutality, depending on the degree and circumstances, may not fall within a police officer’s job duties. Consequently, a municipal employer of a police officer accused of police brutality may try to argue that it cannot be held liable for the actions of that officer.

If a municipal employer argues that the officer was acting outside his employment, a victim of police brutality or excessive force may be left with no adequate remedy, and if the victim requires extensive medical care, or is rendered disabled as a result of the excessive force, the state and taxpayers may be forced to pay the damages.

In Pegues v. Jehle, a federal court took a step towards providing these victims with a remedy by holding that a person subjected to excessive force has a viable claim under the Oklahoma constitution directly against the officer where a jury concludes that the officer acted outside the scope of his employment.

From a strategic standpoint, the decision potentially places the employer at odds with the police officer. For example, it would be in the employer’s best interest to argue that the officer acted outside the scope of employment. At the same time, there may be evidence that the city never disciplined the officer for the conduct, which supports the inference that the employer condoned what the officer did, which exposes the employer to even greater liability.

If you have questions about excessive force or claims under the Oklahoma constitution, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.