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Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal

Abstract

Police accountability has quickly pressed to the forefront of national conversations and subsequently, the national political agenda. Increasing prevalence of excessive and lethal use of force by police officers induced this attention. President Obama convened a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, after the Department of Justice conducted several pattern and practice investigation of misconduct following the high‐profile deaths of unarmed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Their deaths both resulted in no criminal charges against responsible officers. Civil suit was the only option left for officer accountability. This Note addresses the use of 42 U.S.C. §1983 as the common civil cause of action to recover monetary damages and declarative relief against law enforcement officials following lethal use of force against civilians. This Note also focuses on the role of government indemnification of officer defense and any resulting monetary awards. Indemnification conflicts with the purpose of Section 1983 to provide a cause of action against law enforcement agents who engage in abuse of power. Indemnification does not serve deterrence by (near) complete alleviation of any individual liability and stake in civil litigation resulting from an officer’s use of lethal force. This Note concludes with a call to local governments to act by limiting indemnification coverage in cases of lethal force and/or findings of intentional or reckless misconduct in a court of law.

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