Vancouver Civil Rights Lawyer
The U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution along with other federal and state laws grant citizens of Washington various civil rights to help ensure they are treated fairly. Unfortunately, civil rights violations continue to occur, including denial of free speech and other civil rights by the police or government officials. If you or a loved one’s civil rights have been violated by a police officer, prison official or another government actor, a skilled Vancouver civil rights lawyer may be able to help. We know how complex civil rights cases can be. The attorneys at Rizk Law are well-versed in civil rights laws and how to apply these laws to the specifics of your case. Our attorneys can help you understand the law, determine if your rights were infringed, build a strong case on your behalf and work to try to secure just compensation for your damages.
Schedule your free, no obligation legal consultation today by calling 503.245.5677.
Overview of Civil Rights Law
Most civil rights protections originate through federal legislation or federal case law, which often comes from U.S. Supreme Court decisions. While federal law provides a certain level of civil rights protections, state and local law can go beyond federal law to provide additional protections.
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. This statute provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting "under color of” state law for civil rights violations. It is illegal for someone operating under the “color” or uniform of law to deprive you of any right protected by the laws of the U.S. and the Constitution. For example, police officers who use excessive force may fit this description.
In addition to law enforcement officers, others operating under color of law can include judges, prosecutors, mayors, councilpersons and anyone else bound by laws, statutes, ordinances or customs. They have been given the power and authority to enforce the law and ensure justice.
While Section 1983 does not create new legal rights, it does enforce the violations of existing rights.
Washington State Legislation
The Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) is a state agency responsible for administering and enforcing the state’s primary civil rights law, the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Chapter 49.60 RCW is a state law that prohibits discriminatory practices based on certain personal characteristics. These characteristics, also known as protected classes, include sex and gender, race and color, religion and national origin, among others.
The WSHRC along with the Office of the Attorney General has the authority to accept and investigate complaints regarding a civil rights violation.
The Civil Division of the Vancouver City Attorney's Office also provides internal support to the city on civil legal issues, including civil rights violations. This includes preparing and reviewing legal documents.
Our civil rights lawyers in Vancouver may be able to file a lawsuit citing violations of Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 or using certain statutes under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).
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Types of Civil Rights Violations
The Vancouver civil rights lawyers at our firm have extensive experience defending the civil rights of our clients and ensuring they receive fair compensation for their suffering and losses. We are prepared to pursue cases involving a wide variety of civil rights violations including, but not limited to:
Improper conduct by police officers is one of the most common types of civil rights claims. Victims have the right bring a claim forward if they experience excessive force or brutality, illegal searches and seizures, false arrests, malicious prosecutions, unjustified police shootings and other abuses of power.
Lawsuits against law enforcement officials may be directed toward an individual police officer involved in the incident or against the entire police department. For example, if an officer fabricates evidence or falsely arrests you, he or she is taking away your right to due process. The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits Americans from being unlawfully deprived of life, liberty or property. The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures unless a warrant has been issued showing probable cause.
The Washington State Senate recently approved revisions to Initiative 940, a measure which makes it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers accused of misusing deadly force. This initiative was passed in November of 2018.
Existing state law protected officers from being criminally liable for using deadly force if they acted without malice and with a good faith belief that deadly force was justifiable.
Aside from state legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington also helps to advocate for stronger laws to regulate police use of excessive force as well as de-escalation practices and training.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. This applies to those currently in custody in jail or prisons and offers protections against beatings and torture, along with the right to adequate medical care and humane conditions.
If an inmate is disciplined or mistreated by prison officials in a way that causes injury, prison officials or the prison could be held liable. Even if the treatment did not cause the inmate any harm, it may still meet the standard for a civil rights violation.
Conditions that are clearly inhumane or violate basic human dignity can also be deemed cruel and unusual. Poor prison conditions such as overcrowding, lack of toilets, poor cell ventilation and fire safety hazards can pose a great risk for an inmate’s health and safety.
Individuals incarcerated in the criminal justice system also become incapable of caring for themselves. They are not in a position to seek medical attention for an injury or illness. Therefore, the imprisoning authority is required by law to provide adequate medical care to inmates.
If you acquire an infection, suffer from an allergic reaction, break a bone, or develop cancer while in prison, you are entitled to adequate medical care. Any denial of medical care is illegal and a civil rights violation. A prison official or the entire prison facility may be held liable.
Every inmate has a right to basic health services under state law. The Department of Corrections (DOC) in Washington state is in charge of providing medically necessary health and mental health care to those incarcerated in DOC facilities.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
This is an issue that has received much more attention in recent years as the public has learned about the value of all the property that is seized by law enforcement officers. In the 2014 fiscal year, the cash value of all property seized by police departments in Washington State was $1,620,366. The Vancouver Police Department seized property with a total value of $27,213.
Unfortunately, Washington's laws governing civil forfeiture do not offer much protection for citizens. If the government can prove with a preponderance of evidence that the property they want to seize is associated with criminal activity, they can take it. Another problem with Washington's laws on civil forfeiture is that the burden of proving the property was not involved in criminal activity is on the property owner.
The following types of property can be seized if they were employed in the commission of, or aiding or abetting in, the commission of a felony or was intended to be used by someone to commit a felony or be compensated for the commission of a felony:
- Vehicles of any kind
- Negotiable instrument
Once property has been seized, you have 45 days to notify the law enforcement agency in writing of your claim of ownership or right to possess the property. If you provide notice, you are to be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard about your claim.
You will have a hearing before the chief law enforcement officer of the agency that seized your property, or someone designated by that agency. The only exception to this is if the agency was a state agency. In this case, you will either have a hearing before the chief law enforcement officer or an administrative law judge. You have the option of moving the matter to a court of competent jurisdiction.
One area where civil asset forfeiture gets particularly complicated is when the federal government seizes the property and assets of marijuana businesses in the state. Federal law still considers marijuana a controlled substance, like heroin and cocaine, even though states like Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug.
One year into the administration of President Trump, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that directed federal law enforcement officers not to prosecute marijuana-related businesses unless certain factors existed, such as:
- Selling to minors
- Sales across state lines
- Sales used to cover other illegal activity
- Sales from gang members
This means the federal government is much less restricted in its ability to prosecute marijuana businesses in our state and even seize the property and assets of these businesses. Under 21 United States Code (U.S.C.) § 881, the federal government can take real estate or personal property, which could include cars, equipment and cash that constitutes proceeds of marijuana sales or that was used to facility activity related to marijuana.
Sometimes the Department of Justice does not take such severe steps. It may just send a marijuana business a warning letter telling it to close due to blatant violations of state law, even if the conduct of the business is not bad enough to make criminal prosecution an option.
Civil rights cases are not just limited to claims against police officers and prison officials. Many constitutional rights can form the basis of a lawsuit, including free speech. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, which is defined as the right to express opinions without punishment or being subjected to censorship because of those views.
The only types of speech completely unprotected by this amendment include obscenities, fighting words, true threats, and any reference to child pornography.
The First Amendment also gives people the right to peacefully assemble. This means that you have the right to join a rally or meeting to show support or opposition to an issue of public policy.
The government does however have the right to impose reasonable restrictions on where, when and how protests may take place, but these restrictions cannot be based on the content of the speech. For instance, a speech may be restricted if it causes disruption to an area. Speeches done within sensitive areas, such as outside a health care facility, abortion clinic or military base, may also be restricted if protestors are too loud or blocking entrances.
Section 5 of the Washington State Constitution also guarantees the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press to all people, including students. This includes the following rights:
- Wearing buttons, badges, armbands or t-shirts with messaging
- Speaking up about your views in a classroom or other school setting
- Posting notices on a school bulletin board or distributing petitions
- Handing out other types of printed materials, such as brochures or leaflets
- Writing in public school newspapers or student-led publications
In 2018, Washington became the 14th state to extend free speech protection to student journalists. The bill allows student journalists to be free from school censorship as long as their reporting is not illegal or defamatory and would not disrupt the educational environment of the school. Essentially, these students would have the same First Amendment protections as professional journalists.
If your free speech rights or other civil rights granted to you under the U.S. Constitution or other laws were violated, you may be entitled to compensation under the law.
Call 503.245.5677 today to see how we might be able to help you.
Filing a Civil Rights Complaint
At the federal level, filing a complaint will initiate an investigation into your claims by the government agency and the agency may decide to take further action on your behalf. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is in charge of enforcing federal civil rights.
If you think your civil rights were violated, such as experiencing police brutality, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division. If you are filing a complaint about police misconduct, or discrimination in violation of the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you must submit a written complaint to the Coordination and Review Section. You can call this office to request a complaint form.
The complaint should include:
- Your name, address and contact information
- Name of the law enforcement agency involved
- Any identifying information against the violator, such as rank or position
- Date, time and location of the incident
- Names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses
- Description of what happened and why it violates the law
You can also file a complaint with the police department that employed the officer who you believe violated your civil rights. For example, you can file a complaint with the Clark County, Washington Sheriff.
At the state level, you can file a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission if you were discriminated against because of your membership in a protected class. The Human Rights Commission has several steps and deadlines for filing a complaint.
Once the complaint is filed, a Human Rights Commission investigator will act as a neutral fact-finder. He or she will gather the necessary facts surrounding the incident to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that a civil rights violation occurred.
If your complaint does not resolve the situation, you have the option of filing a lawsuit. Our Vancouver civil rights lawyers can assist you through the entire process to pursue fair compensation.
Call 503.245.5677 now for our free consultation.
Damages Available in a Civil Rights Case
The types of compensation that you may receive after a civil rights case are similar to those associated with a personal injury case. This means you may be able to recover compensation for damages such as:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of financial support
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
Our Vancouver civil rights lawyers will carefully examine the facts of your case to determine the damages you may be entitled.
Complete a Free Case Evaluation form now.
Contact Our Vancouver Civil Rights Lawyers Today
Have your civil rights been violated?
Contact a Vancouver civil rights lawyer at Rizk Law to make sure your rights are being protected. Civil rights laws are complex and the denial of rights can be difficult to prove without a dedicated attorney on your side every step of the way.
We have handled many different cases involving a variety of civil rights violations and will work hard to fight for your best interests. Your consultation with us is free and at no obligation or risk to you. Let us review your case and determine the legal options available to you.
Contact our office today by calling 503.245.5677.