Springfield, MA — As the Free Thought Project has reported extensively, police officers, even when found at fault for their abusive actions, are almost never held personally liable. It is the taxpayers who foot the bill. However, a new trend in accountability seems to be happening more often, and will be massively more effective at curbing police brutality than any system in place right now. Cops are being forced to pay their victims out of their own pockets.
The most recent case of a cop being held personally liable for his crimes comes from Massachusetts in which a Hadley Police Officer was sentenced to 14 months in prison and forced to pay a man $2,204 in restitution. In 2017, Hadley Police Officer Christopher Roeder broke a man’s nose on video. He was found guilty of deprivation of rights under color of law, and falsifying his police report involving the 2017 arrest.
“Officers aren’t only expected to enforce the law in their communities, they are expected to follow it themselves,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, in a statement about the sentencing. “In this case, an officer broke a man’s nose for no legitimate purpose and then, in an effort to cover up the attack, falsified official documents about the incident. This behavior is unacceptable in someone entrusted with protecting the public safety.”
According to the Roeder’s official report, Nickolas Peters was arrested by Roeder after he allegedly sped through a construction zone. Roeder claimed Peters struck him with his truck and was injured, although he never sought out medical attention. Four days after Peters allegedly sped through the construction zone, Roeder found Peters and arrested him for assault and battery on a police officer and other offenses.
While Roeder was booking Peters into the jail, he struck Peters in the nose so hard with his elbow that it broke in multiple places. The break was so bad that it required surgery to fix.
Prosecutors claimed that Roeder struck Peters out of retaliation but Roeder claims Peters was about to overpower him and he had no other choice. In the video it is quite clear that Peters was not a threat and simply had his hands behind his back.
“Roeder stuck him in the face without legal justification and then falsified his police report describing the incident in an an attempt to obstruct the investigation,” Lelling said at the time.
“As a police officer sworn to uphold the law, Mr. Roeder’s conduct deliberately abused the authority bestowed upon him, undermining the integrity of our criminal justice system,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after the sentencing. “The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers perform their duties with dedication and integrity, putting their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. This case illustrates the FBI’s commitment and ability to address isolated incidents where officers betray the badge and the public’s trust.”
After his nose was broken by the officer, Peters would go on to be exonerated of the crimes Roeder accused him of committing.
Now, after Roeder was found guilty, he is being forced to pay Peters out of his own pocket — a truly revolutionary and highly effective deterrent against future criminal behavior.
When police officers actually fear the loss of their own money, they may think twice before savagely beating a handcuffed woman or breaking into the wrong house and killing the innocent owner.
As TFTP has previously reported, although police officers being held personally liable is fairly rare, it is happening more and more. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Lin’s case is another example of cops coming out of pocket to pay for their crimes.
In 2013, Lin spotted 19-year-old Dontrell Stephens in a “high-crime area” — the man’s own low-income neighborhood — riding a bicycle in a manner the deputy found suspicious.
Lin stopped the youth, who dismounted the bike with a cell phone in his hand and slowly approached the officer. Just outside the range of dash cam video, the officer shot Stephens four times — claiming he was in fear for his life — but footage and evidence clearly showed the claim to be baseless.
Three of the bullets remain lodged in Stephens’ body, according to the Sun Sentinel — two in his arm and one in his spine, which left him paralyzed and dependent on a wheelchair for mobility.
In 2017, Stephens won a massive $22.4 million settlement and U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer ruled that Lin should foot at least a portion of the bill. Last month, nearly everything this officer owned was seized to pay back Stephens — including everything from his furniture to his clothing.
Lin will most assuredly think twice before shooting another unarmed teen.
Imagine, for a moment, the result of all police officers being held personally liable for their actions and forced to pay their victims. In nearly every other profession on the planet, if someone hurts someone else while on the job, they are held liable — personally. Why can’t cops carry personal liability insurance just like doctors?
As instances of police brutality and police killings continue to be exposed, there is no doubt that the US is in dire need of reform. The simple requirement for police to be insured for personal liability is an easy fix — especially to remove repeat offenders from the force.
All too often, when a tragic death such as Tamir Rice occurs, months later we find out that the officer should have never been given a badge and a gun in the first place because of their past. However, insurance companies, who can’t fleece the taxpayers to pay for problem cops, would have to come out of pocket to pay for them and would make sure that these officers are uninsurable.
If the officer becomes uninsurable, the officer becomes unhirable — simple as that.
There are likely many cops out there right now who would be denied insurance coverage by any company, due to their track records. A requirement for personal liability insurance would, quite literally, weed out problem officers — almost overnight.