Police brutality is the overuse of force or undue violence by members of law enforcement. While police officers have the right to use force – even deadly force – while performing job-related duties, they must do so according to what is reasonable for the situation. Excessive use of force can describe any type of violence or brutality by the police officer that the circumstances did not reasonably warrant. If you witness what appears to be police brutality in San Antonio, you may be able to help the victim or his or her family fight back.

Can You Get Into Legal Trouble?

As a witness or bystander to police brutality, keep yourself from getting involved in the altercation by staying on the sidelines. Never touch an officer, make threats or get in the way of an arrest. The police could arrest you for the obstruction of justice or even for assaulting an officer if you are not careful. If you wish to help the victim of police brutality, protect your status as an innocent witness by not getting directly involved. Step back if the police command that you do so. It is important to protect your rights while standing up against police brutality in your city.

Are You Allowed to Record the Altercation?

The law in Texas allows you to record an altercation involving the police as long as it is in a public place. An arrest in a public place, while carrying out public duties, is subject to videotaping and recording by bystanders. Legally, a police officer cannot do anything to stop you from recording. The officer cannot lawfully confiscate your camera, arrest you for recording, order you to stop, demand to see your device or delete your images. The only exception is if you are truly interfering with law enforcement operations or if you are on private property.

If you witness police brutality, you may be able to help the victim in the long term by recording the altercation. Take out your cellphone and take a video. If a police officer tries to demand that you stop recording, calmly and politely remind the officer of your constitutional right to do so. Do not turn your camera off. Footage of police misconduct or brutality could serve as key evidence in the victim’s case against the law enforcement officer later.

How Do You File a Police Brutality Claim?

As a witness to police brutality, it may not be your place to file a claim on behalf of the injured victim, but you can file a complaint with authorities for police misconduct. First, write everything down while the details of the ordeal are still fresh in your mind. Write down the time, date and location of the altercation. Make a note of how many officers were involved, what the victim looked like and what happened. If you can, get the names of the police officers and police car numbers.

Write down as many details as you can remember, but do not embellish or speculate. Stick to the facts. You may want to talk to other witnesses for more information. If any of the victim’s friends or family members were at the scene, give them your name and contact information. You can also send them the footage or photographs you took of the police brutality incident. A lawyer may contact you later to testify as a witness. To file a complaint, call the local nonemergency police number. File your formal complaint, complete with as much information about the incident as possible.

Do You Have to Appear in Court?

One way in which you could help a victim of police brutality is to respond to a summons to go to court as a witness. You will only have a legal obligation to appear in court or at a deposition if you receive a subpoena, or court order, to do so. Otherwise, you can politely decline the invitation if you do not wish to give testimony as a witness. Offering what information and/or footage you have, however, could help the victim craft a case for police misconduct against the officer or agency. If you receive a subpoena, you must respond, or the courts could hold you in contempt. Speak to a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about witnessing police brutality.