Many police officers do their best to respect individual rights and operate within the legal bounds of their power. Yet, like everyone else, police officers are only human. They occasionally make mistakes, overstep their bounds or otherwise act outside of their official capacity. When this happens, the individuals whose rights were violated may be able to get evidence against them thrown out.
In Bay County, law enforcement officers regularly face complaints from the public. In a recent investigation, The News Herald gathered information on all the formal complaints filed last year against Bay County’s three largest police agencies.
Number of formal complaints in double digits for biggest Bay County law enforcement agencies
In total, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, the Panama City Police Department and the Panama City Beach Police Department faced 85 formal complaints in 2012. This number only includes formal complaints in which paperwork was filed; complaints made in person or over the phone that were informally handled by a supervisor were not included in the total.
With the largest force out of the three agencies at 207 sworn officers, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office was the subject of the most complaints, at 50. The Panama City Police Department, with 97 officers, had 14 complaints filed against it. And, although it has the smallest force at 55 sworn officers, the Panama City Beach Police Department faced 21 complaints, giving it the highest number of complaints relative to the size of the department.
The situations that gave rise to the complaints were varied. For example, in one instance, an officer incorrectly wrote a traffic ticket for something the driver told him that the officer did not observe himself. A number of complaints cited general unprofessional conduct by officers.
In all three agencies, many complaints, particularly the less serious ones, were handled by the officer’s supervisor. A small number of the complaints were referred for an internal affairs investigation.
Officer mistake often mean evidence collected against you can be challenged
When an officer violates a serious department policy or even breaks the law, he or she may face internal discipline as an employee, termination, or even criminal charges. However, for the suspect whose rights were violated, of more pressing and practical concern are the implications in the case against them.
When evidence is obtained by violating a suspect’s rights, the suspect can get this evidence thrown out in court. For example, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures at the hands of the police is just one of the many rights enjoyed by those potentially facing criminal charges. If an officer violates this right by pulling over a car without any suspicion of wrongdoing, any evidence the officer observes as a result of the illegal stop is tainted, and thus may be challenged in court.
Even when an officer violates a suspect’s rights, it does not mean that it will result in a formal complaint against the department. But, the fact that there were a number of complaints filed against Bay County law enforcement officers in the last year, some of which resulted in disciplinary action, shows that even the generally well-respected law enforcement officers of Northwestern Florida are not beyond reproach.
If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime and think you may have been treated unfairly by officers, it is important to defend yourself against criminal charges. Contact a Bay County criminal defense attorney to learn more about how you may be able to challenge the evidence against you and use improper police procedure to your advantage.