Texans who work in law enforcement have a high calling: keeping our communities safe and maintaining order in society. We understand and appreciate that you have worked hard to become a licensed police officer or corrections officer in Texas. However, a single complaint can destroy your livelihood and all the demanding work you invested in building your career.
If your law enforcement license is threatened by a complaint, it is imperative that you take immediate action to protect your license. You need an experienced professional license defense attorney in Texas who can defend your rights, license, and livelihood. The law enforcement license defense attorneys at Bertolino LLP are proud to serve those who serve and protect fellow Texans.
Texas Law Enforcement Officers Facing Formal Complaints
Licensed law enforcement officers in Texas are regulated by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). The TCOLE investigates complaints against law enforcement officers under the following circumstances:
- An alleged violation of a law or rule relates to licensing, certification or appointment
- A licensed officer is facing criminal charges or other legal consequences for a covered criminal offense (anything above a Class C misdemeanor)
- An alleged issue involves fraudulent or substandard training of law enforcement officers
The TCOLE will not investigate non-jurisdictional complaints, such as complaints of rudeness, unprofessional conduct, or improper investigations.
Who Can File a Complaint with the TCOLE?
Anyone can file a complaint against an individual, agency, or training provider regulated by the TCOLE. Complaints are reviewed by TCOLE peace officers. If the preliminary investigation yields sufficient information to indicate a violation of the TCOLE’s rules, the Texas Occupations Code, or another applicable law, then an administrative or criminal case will be opened by the enforcement division.
If you are implicated in a complaint filed with the TCOLE, you will be served notice of the intended disciplinary action. You have the right to legal representation from a professional license defense attorney at any stage of the complaint resolution process.
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How Is Police Misconduct Defined in Texas?
Under Texas Law, citizens have the right to pursue legal action against peace officers, correctional officers, sheriff’s deputies, and others in law enforcement. Citizens can file a complaint through the TCOLE and pursue legal action using the rights bestowed by the federal constitution, namely 42 U.S.C. §1983. The following actions are defined as police misconduct under Texas law:
- The use of excessive force: Any act of force during a pursuit or arrest that is unreasonable for the circumstances can be defined as police misconduct. For example, if a suspect strikes an officer and continues to fight, it would be reasonable to use force to neutralize the situation, but it would be unreasonable to use force on a suspect who is yelling but otherwise physically cooperating.
- Abuse of power: Abuse of power can take many forms. For instance, if an officer uses their authority to bully or coerce a confession, it may be considered an abuse of power.
- Unlawful search and seizure: An officer cannot simply search a car, house, or person without cause. Without consent or immediate cause, an officer must get a warrant before performing a search and seizure.
- Sexual abuse or assault by force or coercion: When an officer trades leniency for sexual favors or abuses their authority for sexual gratification, this is considered police misconduct.
- An arrest or detainment without lawful justification: Officers must follow strict guidelines to arrest and detain individuals. To hold someone without cause or reason is a violation of a person’s individual liberties.
- A failure to disclose exculpatory evidence: Exculpatory evidence is proof that exonerates an individual or otherwise clears them of wrongdoing. An officer cannot withhold evidence that may lead to the conviction of an innocent person.
Because every arrest is different, the law allows for interpreting what is reasonable on a case-by-case basis.
Common Offenses Our Defense Attorneys Handle
At Bertolino LLP, our license defense attorneys have extensive experience handling a wide array of complaints and allegations, including:
- False arrests
- Excessive force
- Witness tampering
- Racial profiling
- Illegal search and seizure
- Falsification of evidence
- Sexual abuse
- Coerced and false confessions
- False imprisonment
Any complaint made through TCOLE has the potential to turn into an actionable offense that can jeopardize a peace officer’s license. Having an officer license revoked has lasting, permanent consequences.
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The Proper Procedures for Making an Arrest
During an arrest, law enforcement may use certain procedures to protect an officer’s physical safety, aid in documentation, and help the arresting officer avoid costly legal mistakes. For example, law enforcement may make an arrest if one or more of the following conditions are met:
- The police officer must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a crime.
- The officer must have an arrest warrant issued by a judge.
- The officer is a witness to a crime.
Depending on jurisdiction and circumstance, a lawful arrest will follow these procedures:
- When an officer detains a suspected individual, they can choose to use handcuffs or place the person in the police car. Most prefer to use handcuffs for personal protection, especially when there may be multiple suspects or an unsecured location.
- Police officers are required to read a suspect their Miranda Rights before any interrogation. Though not required, it has become custom for an officer to read a person’s Miranda Rights at the time of the arrest so the officer may begin their line of questioning.
- It has become customary for an officer to tell a suspect that they are under arrest. However, law enforcement may not be legally bound to do so.
In Texas, peace officers are allowed to make arrests outside of their jurisdiction without a warrant when they are witnesses to the crime. The criminal activity must involve a felony, intoxication offense, breach of peace, or disorderly conduct.
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What Is Qualified Immunity?
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that prevents law enforcement officers from being subject to liability lawsuits unless they have violated a constitutional right. Qualified immunity has evolved over the decades and has found its definition in court rulings.
The idea of qualified immunity is not to make police officers impervious to consequences. Instead, it seeks to balance the need for officers to have the freedom to do their job and protect society while holding corrupt and abusive individuals accountable.
Law enforcement is inherent with dangers not experienced by society as a whole. The importance of qualified immunity is to allow officers the room to make split-second decisions without worrying about a possible lawsuit. If an officer’s every action is subject to extreme scrutiny, the chances of making detrimental mistakes that could lead to a suspect’s escape or the death of another officer increases dramatically.
Our Attorneys Are Experienced at Defending Licensed Law Enforcement Officers
Our attorneys have the experience and legal knowledge needed to help law enforcement officers take aggressive action to protect their licenses. We are prepared to represent you at every stage of the complaint resolution process. We will get to know you and your case, thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the allegation(s), and help you mount a strong defense to protect your license and your career.
We are standing by to help Texan law enforcement officers. Contact us for a free evaluation of your case. We look forward to speaking to you today.