Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Claims in Texas

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

You may have grounds to file a civil rights lawsuit if the police mistreat you. The most common form of police misconduct is the use of excessive force, sometimes called police brutality. For instance, in one Texas case a woman alleged that a sheriff's deputy slammed her into a concrete bench while booking her on charges.

The main obstacle plaintiffs face in bringing such lawsuits is that police officers have a certain degree of "immunity," which ensures that they're not unreasonably hampered in performing their difficult job. Generally speaking, police officers will be immune from suit unless they violate someone's clearly established rights. The same immunity rules apply to lawsuits against sheriff's deputies, correctional officers, and others in law enforcement.

Overview of Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Claims in Texas

Although the best way to understand your legal rights is to consult an attorney, here is a "plain English" summary of some important aspects of suing for police misconduct in Texas.

Statutes

Federal Law: 42 U.S. Code section 1983

Texas Law: Texas Tort Claims Act

Texas plaintiffs sometimes sue law enforcement officers under the Texas Tort Claims Act. More commonly, though, they rely on the federal constitution, including the right to due process of law. They usually file the lawsuit under a federal civil rights statute known as Section 1983.

Types of Police Misconduct Police misconduct includes where an officer:
  • uses excessive force, meaning an amount of force that was unreasonable given the circumstances, including unnecessary lethal force;
  • arrests or detains someone without lawful justification;
  • fails to disclose exculpatory evidence, that is, evidence tending to show that a person was innocent of the crime; or
  • engages in sexual assault or otherwise misuses authority.
Time Limit The statute of limitations for a Section 1983 claim varies from one to six years because it borrows the state's time limit for personal injury claims. A claim is usually barred if it's brought past the deadline.

The Texas Tort Claims Act provides only a brief window for asserting claims, sometimes as little as 45 days, so it's important to act quickly.
Immunity Under a doctrine known as qualified immunity, law enforcement officers are shielded from liability for causing injuries or harm unless they violate someone's clearly established rights. Typically, the question of whether immunity applies is a central legal issue in a police misconduct case.

A separate doctrine of immunity shields municipalities from some damages claims.
Damages A plaintiff in a successful lawsuit for police misconduct can recover monetary damages. In addition, the other side may be required to pay the plaintiff's attorney fees.

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 Texas: Related Resources

Talk to an Attorney About Police Misconduct Laws in Texas

If you were a victim of police brutality, falsely arrested, or harmed by other misconduct, you may be able to file suit and obtain compensation for your injuries. Discuss your case with a Texas civil rights lawyer near you who will help defend your legal rights.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.