On February 1st, a video emerged of police officers in Rochester, New York, pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl. There were nine police officers at the scene. Three of the officers have been suspended. The bodycam footage showed police officers trying to restrain the girl, who was in handcuffs. 

The girl disobeyed commands and was pepper-sprayed by a police officer. The video shows the girl repeatedly and frantically screaming as the officers tried to restrain her. The police were called because the girl was allegedly suicidal, and she was taken to the hospital after being pepper-sprayed, where she received mental health services. This story is one of many examples of police harassment and abuse that have come to light in recent news headlines. We will discuss what constitutes police harassment in Philadelphia below. 


The Philadelphia Police Department Has a History of Sexual Harassment 

One type of police harassment involves sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Police Department has a history of sexual harassment cases. Police harassment can include police officers sexually harassing suspects or defendants, but it can also include police officers harassing other police officers. In 2017, the city of Philadelphia paid out $1.25 million to settle sexual harassment claims against several of its officers.

One woman claims that a veteran police officer sexually assaulted her and engaged in pervasive sexual harassment. Over the past 10 years, the city of Philadelphia has paid $222,000 to resolve five different sexual harassment lawsuits involving police officers. Another woman had accused a veteran police officer of forcing her to engage in a sex act in his police car in 2006. The department says it is taking allegations of sexual harassment seriously. However, the Philadelphia Police Department has a history of not doing anything to combat rampant harassment by its officers.


The Definition of Police Harassment

Police harassment is a specific type of police misconduct. Some people are not even aware of police harassment, even though it is a far too common occurrence. As civilians, we expect that police officers will protect and serve our communities, as required by their oath. However, some police officers abuse their power and harass innocent citizens. Police harassment occurs when  an officer arbitrarily or continually stops someone. Officers may engage in aggressive questioning of an innocent person or conduct an illegal or unwarranted search and seizure, called a “stop and frisk,” without any legal basis. 

In some cases, police officers who engage in harassment are merely abusing their authority because of the feeling of power it gives them. In other cases, police officers use their power to retaliate against others who have wronged them. Police officers may abuse their power by lashing out against groups of people they dislike or suspects with whom they have had previous negative encounters. Whatever the motivation, police harassment is illegal. If you have been the victim of police harassment, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible.


Police Officers Can Use Stop and Frisks to Harass Innocent Citizens

Various actions can be classified as police harassment. In some cases, law enforcement officers use legitimate police protocols against ordinary citizens to harass them. While police officers do have the right to stop and question citizens, they cannot simply stop anyone they do not like and they cannot arbitrarily choose people to stop and question. Police officers must have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that the citizen was involved in the crime. 

Law enforcement officers are permitted to engage in a limited protection search. They are not allowed to use these types of searches to harass people. Police officers must be able to give an account for the basis of their reasonable suspicion that a person is armed before they can frisk someone for weapons. Their reasonable suspicion must be based on objective facts that they can articulate, not just a “gut feeling.” According to the plain view doctrine, if police officers simply see an item that is contraband, they can confiscate it legally and take any further action as appropriate. However, sometimes police officers will falsely claim that they saw contraband or thought they saw contraband to justify harassment.


Examples of Police Harassment

There are many different types of police harassment, such as the following:

  • Illegal detention
  • Illegal search and seizure
  • Use of excessive force
  • Racial or ethnic profiling
  • Illegal “stop and frisk” without objectively reasonable suspicion
  • Making sexist, racist, or homophobic comments
  • Sexual harassment
  • Intimidation
  • Surveillance abuse
  • Political repression
  • Off-duty harassment
  • False arrest


Filing a Complaint Against a Philadelphia Police Officer

If you have been the victim of police harassment or brutality, you may be entitled to compensation. We believe that victims of police brutality should hold abusive police officers responsible for their actions. Police harassment can have serious emotional, physical, and financial consequences for victims and their families. We want to help you hold the police officer who engages in harassment accountable for their actions. Nobody should be able to get away with using their power to abuse Philadelphia residents, regardless of the circumstances. 

You deserve justice, and our attorneys are here to help you fight for it. Depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to file a claim with the city or file a personal injury lawsuit. 


Bringing a Lawsuit Against a Police Officer

Bringing a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department is not easy. The police department has a union, attorneys, and other government officials that will try to protect the officers involved. However, when police officers have engaged in misconduct by harassing someone, it is important to seek justice by taking legal action. We recommend discussing your case with an attorney as soon as possible. 

Your attorney will be able to help you decide the best legal strategy for your case. You may choose to sue the police department by filing a complaint against the individual officer who harassed you. Depending on the facts of your case, you may also be able to bring a lawsuit against that officer’s supervisor or the police department.

To bring a successful police harassment lawsuit, you will need to provide evidence that shows a pattern of behavior or harassment on the part of the police officer or department. An attorney can help you depose witnesses and gather all of the available evidence showing that the officer exhibited various harassing behavior, such as spying or surveilling, engaging in racial profiling, or making racist, sexist, or homophobic comments. In addition to helping you file a lawsuit, your attorney can also help you file a complaint against the officer or department responsible for the harassment.


Police Harassment During Illegal Arrests

Many cases involving police harassment happened during an arrest. Even though police officers have broad latitude to protect citizens, they cannot violate your civil rights. Police officers have a duty to perform their duties properly when arresting someone. If you believe that a police officer has harassed you while making an illegal arrest, it is essential that you discuss your case with an attorney. You may have a harassment case against the police officer and police department.

For example, if a police officer arrested you based on false testimony from an unknown source who was unreliable, or it was based solely on your race or ethnicity, you may be able to prove that a civil rights violation has occurred. Suppose a second officer witnessed you being arrested illegally and failed to intervene; you may be able to bring an additional charge against that officer for failing to protect you from a constitutional violation.


Racial Profiling Harassment by Police Officers

Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Police Department does not have a clean record when it comes to engaging and racial profiling. If you believe that you were arrested because of your race, ethnicity, or national origin, you may have a valid claim under Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1983. With racial profiling harassment cases, your attorney will need to obtain data and records to demonstrate that your city followed a systematic policy of violating the rights of racial minorities. 


Contact a Philadelphia Police Harassment Lawyer

Have you or your loved one been exposed to harassment by Philadelphia police officers? If so, it is crucial that you discuss your case with an experienced police harassment lawyer as soon as possible. At Abramson & Denenberg, P.C., we focus a large portion of our legal practice on representing police brutality and harassment victims. We have a successful track record of holding Philadelphia police officers responsible. We will review your case and advise you of your legal options. Contact us today to learn how we can fight for your rights.