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If you believe your civil rights have been violated by a police officer, you might be wondering, “who should I sue – the officer, the department, or the city?” Many people think they need to sue the police department because that’s who the officer works for, such as the LAPD. But is that the answer? Should you be suing the police department?

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Suing The Police Department: Can It Be Done?


You feel like your civil rights might have been violated by an officer, you might be asking yourself “who should I sue – the officer, the department, or the city?”  Most people think you need to be suing the police department, because that’s who the officer works for –  like the LAPD.  Even while it would seem like a good idea to sue the police, the LAPD is not the appropriate defendant. Rather, you must file a lawsuit against each officer separately as well as against the state, county, or city where they are employed.

You actually need to sue the officer individually and sue the city, county or state that the officer works for.  For example, if an LAPD officer violates your rights, you need to sue the Officer and the City of Los Angeles – not the LAPD.  If it was a Sheriff that violated your rights, you would need to sue that Deputy and the County of Los Angeles – not the Sheriff’s Department.


Sometimes a case is brought under the name “plaintiff v. Los Angeles Police Department.” However, in these instances as well, the city and the officer are the ones being sued, not the department. Why? This is because the City of Los Angeles oversees the Los Angeles Police Department as an agency. Consequently, you should sue both the guilty officer or officers and the City of Los Angeles, which is effectively their employer, in any civil rights action involving misbehavior by the police.

Consider it. The LAPD is paid by whom? The city has it. Therefore, you should include the city in your case if you are suing the police department for something like violence, unlawful arrest, or wrongdoing on the part of the officers. It may seem simple to sue the police department, but it’s important to make sure your legal action accurately names the city as well, as the city is ultimately at fault.

Keep in mind that while suing the police department, it’s important to make sure your complaint targets the right parties, which are the specific officer and the city or county they work for.

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Can You Sue an Individual Police Officer?


It is legal to sue specific police officers in the US if you believe they have violated your constitutional rights or engaged in misconduct. These legal actions may result from instances of excessive force, wrongful detention, or other misbehavior.


Qualified immunity presents a considerable legal difficulty, nevertheless. According to this theory, police officers are frequently exempt from personal culpability if they had a reasonable belief—albeit a false one—that their acts were legal at the time. Officers are protected by qualified immunity unless they infringe upon “clearly established” constitutional or statutory rights. This implies that an officer may be shielded from lawsuits by the law even in cases when their acts were improper.


This legal protection makes it challenging to win lawsuits against individual officers. If you are considering legal action, consulting with an experienced attorney is crucial to navigate these complexities.

How Do You Go About Suing the City If An Officer Has Infringed Upon My Civil Rights?

You’ll need to find an experienced civil rights lawyer in Los Angeles who knows how to navigate the process and build a strong case against the city or county. To build a case against the city or county, a civil rights lawyer would have to prove that the misconduct was a result of an institutional problem and not just a one-off situation. An attorney would also have to prove that the city was aware of the misconduct and did nothing to stop it. And furthermore, they would need to show that the city failed to properly train or supervise the officers involved. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.


This is not to discourage you from suing the police department or bringing your case to us. On the contrary, bring it. Highlighting the amount of work that goes behind a civil rights case is merely to point out the seriousness behind such infringements. This is good to know because a civil rights attorney, with that amount of work in mind, will only take a case that they feel you can win.


A few examples of cases where people have successfully sued and won are:

  • Lyle Spruill v County of Los Angeles et al
  • Estate of Anthony Soderberg and Shirley Soderberg vs. DOES and Los Angeles Police Department


What are some examples of institutional problems that could lead to a successful lawsuit against the city? Some examples are:

  • a police department that has a history of using excessive force
  • a police department that has a history of making wrongful arrests
  • a police department that has a history of discriminatory practices


What are some examples of police misconduct?

  • excessive force
  • wrongful arrest
  • discriminatory practices
  • failure to properly train or supervise officers


To recap, if there are lawyers who are suing the police departments, then they are actually suing, on your behalf, the city, county or state as well as the officers involved. But rest assured, there are civil rights attorneys like Greg Kirakosian who have a proven track record of winning cases against the city and state.

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