I get calls every day from people in West Virginia, or from elsewhere who were arrested, etc., in West Virginia, who want to sue the police. To be honest with you, I only seriously consider very, very few of these types of cases. Sometimes, from what I hear in the first few minutes, or in a description of what allegedly happened, I don’t even want to get involved with it.
Since I know that people researching the law with regards to filing lawsuits against the police and police misconduct in West Virginia end up on the site, let me go ahead and tell you what I personally look for in a police liability case.
Number one, credibility. If it’s going to be your word against the officer’s. There must be some indication of credibility on your part. That means preferably no criminal history. College education is a plus. A good career is a plus. A good family is a plus. Being married is a plus. Being otherwise successful in life seriously bolsters your credibility.
Number two, corroborating evidence. It is almost necessary to provide some corroborating evidence that the police engaged in misconduct. It could be a witness (again, see comments on credibility), or it could be a videotape, an audio recording. It could be found in official documentation, such as a police report or internal investigation, or even in a cruiser dashboard camera, or a police report. It could be corroborated by law enforcement itself, such as through disciplinary action taken against the officer, or through a criminal prosecution of the officer.
Number three, damages. If you have no damages, in most instances, there’s nothing to compensate you for. This goes hand in hand with credibility. Generally, if you are a credible, upstanding citizen, it will cause you damage to be wrongly arrested. You might get fired. You might lose business. These are damages. Maybe you were beaten and ended up in the hospital. Medical bills, pain and suffering, etc., are damages.
Number four, your story of what happened to you has to piss me off. If after hearing what happened to you really pisses me off, then I get excited about it. Those are the types of cases I like to take. One’s that I feel comfortable with taking to a jury and shoving down the state’s throat. Where I feel truth and justice is on my side.
Number five, and lastly, I have to have a good feeling about the client. I don’t want to take a risk for someone – and these cases are risky – if I don’t like them. Because if I don’t like them, chances are a jury may not like them.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for me, or for other attorneys, to take every justified case. Other considerations are always at play. It is one of the faults of our justice system.
But it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you call me with your story, I will at least be able to tell you pretty quickly whether I would be interested in taking the case or not.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.