Tennessee Police Misconduct Laws and Claims

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

The job of the police is to serve and protect the public and, most of the time, the public is glad for their sacrifice and service. However, there are times when an officer doesn't follow the proper procedures, mistreats, harasses, or intimidates civilians, or commits a crime. When these situations happen, it may constitute police misconduct.

Incidents of police misconduct can include using excessive force during an arrest, and demanding bribes or other behavior that violates state and federal laws. If the police cross the line into illegal activity or violate someone's civil rights, the victim may file a complaint with the police department or an appropriate city or state department. In addition, complaints can be made to the local district attorney's office which may result in criminal charges. Further, the victim also may file a civil complaint for compensation for damages or injuries caused by the misconduct.

Police Misconduct Laws in Tennessee at a Glance

An attorney's insight provides the best way to understand a statute and how it might apply to you, but you can still get a handle on the law by reading a plain language overview. See the chart below for a summary of statutes related to Tennessee's police misconduct laws, including links to important code sections.


Tennessee Code, Title 39, Chapter 16, Part 4 - Misconduct Involving Public Officials and Employees:

Federal Law, Title 18, U.S. Code:

Types of Police Misconduct

Situations Where Misconduct Can Occur:

Although police misconduct can occur anytime an officer interacts with a civilian, there are some common scenarios and circumstances where potential causes of action may arise, including but not limited to the following situations:

  • During routine traffic stops, arrests or detentions;
  • After a police pursuit;
  • During actions taken as the result of racial profiling; and
  • During one's detainment in jails, prisons, or detention facilities.

Examples of Police Misconduct:

  • abusive language
  • false arrest
  • false imprisonment
  • harassment
  • excessive force
  • police action resulting in severe injury or death
  • discrimination or discriminatory references
  • abuse of authority
  • retaliation
  • failure to provide official police identification

What to Do if You are a Victim of Police Misconduct

  • Note the names and badge numbers of the officers involved
  • Note any identifying markings on the police car
  • Note the location
  • Document the date and time of the event
  • Note any witnesses
  • File a complaint with the police department as soon as possible.

Note: If you've been charged with criminal misconduct, seek advice from an attorney before filing a complaint against a police officer to prevent inadvertently waiving your rights.

Criminal Penalties / Damages

Criminal Penalties

  • Violations of TC 39-16-402 are Class A misdemeanors
  • Violations of TC 39-16-403 are Class E felonies. (Section 40-35-111)

Note: Charges for official misconduct or oppression may be brought only by prosecutors through an indictment, presentment or criminal information, but a person may pursue other criminal charges by affidavit of complaint.

Restitution for Crime Victims

Restitution may be paid to victims of a crime when ordered by a judge (Section 39-11-118)

Civil Damages (Section 29-39-102)

Statute of Limitations

Filing Criminal Charges

Civil Lawsuit Statute of Limitations

  • Personal injury or intentional tort is 1 year
  • Injury to personal property 3 years

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Police Misconduct Laws in Tennessee: Related Resources

Talk to an Attorney About Police Misconduct Laws in Tennessee

Whether you were injured because of an officer's reckless driving, unjustly incarcerated, or were otherwise victimized by police misconduct, you may be able to get compensation for your injury. Discuss your case with an experienced Tennessee civil rights attorney near you who can help to protect your rights.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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