Sometimes routine action on the behalf of law enforcement can later become something more, which why it is important for departments to maintain compliance to mitigate litigation risk. In the case of a lawsuit, expired certifications and overlooked training courses can result in difficulties for a department and individual.
Lawsuits can happen at anytime – even a year after an officer has an interaction with an individual. For example, a Texas woman who was arrested last year by an Arlington police officer has filed a lawsuit in federal court this week.
The Star Telegram reported that Vanessa Aguilar is accusing Officer Juan Rangel of using excessive force when he arrested her in 2012. She claims that the officer grabbed her by the neck, slammed her on the ground and punched her before placing her in handcuffs. The lawsuit stats that Aguilar was "compliant, nonviolent and nonthreatening" during the arrest.
The suit does not specify damages sought by Aguilar, according to the news source.
"From our view, this is a frivolous lawsuit and we have no intention of paying any money, and we look forward to having this resolved in court," Robert Fugate, of the Arlington city attorney's office, told the news source.
While Fugate of the Arlington city attorney's office may find this lawsuit without merit it still could cause trouble and create costs for Rangel and the department. Frequently plaintiffs cite "failure to train" as a component of their suit enabling them to argue that the Department bears liability for not properly training officers.
Situations like these are exactly why law enforcement agencies must document compliance with training and certification standards in a legally defensible manner. To be defensible in court, an accurate recording of a team's compliance records cannot be kept on a simple spreadsheet. This is because there is no way a department can prove under cross-examination that the data was not manually altered. To hold up in court, a department's training and compliance management system must include detailed audit trails showing when users log in and what they recorded in the system. Properly documenting training and compliance will enable a department to build a strong defensible position against litigation.
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