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California Wrongful Death by Police Statistics

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Civil Rights

No one is prepared to lose a loved one, and it’s always hard when it happens. It can be even more difficult to deal with when their death was caused by a police officer’s misconduct or failure. Police violence and misconduct frequently lead to unfair and unnecessary deaths. These deaths, as well as police violence as a whole, disproportionately affect black citizens. In the U.S., black citizens are twice as likely to be killed by police violence than white citizens. In 2022, despite Black Americans making up 13% of the U.S. population, 26% of those killed by police were black.

There are ways to hold police officers accountable for their actions. Both criminal and civil claims can be filed against officers who are at fault for a civilian’s death. A loved one can file a wrongful death claim if they lost a family member due to another party’s negligence, carelessness, or malice.

The Severity of Wrongful Deaths Caused by Police

Police violence, brutality, and misconduct have caused deaths across the U.S. and in California. So far this year, as of July 31, 2023, 663 people in the nation have been killed by police. 73 of those deaths were in California. In 2022, police killed 1,201 people throughout the year, and California saw 139 of those deaths.

From January 1, 2013, to July 31, 2023, an estimated 1,717 people were killed in California by police violence. This is the highest number of citizen deaths resulting from police violence in the nation. This high number can partially be attributed to California’s significant population. When comparing the state’s rates of wrongful deaths per population, California’s rate of those killed by police violence in the state is 4.1 per 1 million people. This makes California the 18th-ranking state in the nation for police wrongful death rates.

Police violence and wrongful deaths caused by police are significant problems, often caused by individual officer failures and institutional failures.

Qualified Immunity and Police Wrongful Death Cases

Filing a civil or criminal claim against a police officer can be difficult. Very rarely are police officers charged or convicted of the wrongful deaths they have caused. In the nation, 98.1% of wrongful deaths due to police result in the officer not being charged with a crime. Of those who were charged, 25% were convicted. This means that approximately .475% of all police killings led to the officer being convicted of the crime.

This is partially due to qualified immunity laws. To file a civil case against a police officer, or for a police officer to be criminally charged, you must first overturn qualified immunity. This protection extends to several governmental and public officials. When invoked, it protects officials like police officers from civil claims as long as the officer or official was completing actions within their job.

To overturn qualified immunity, you and your attorney must prove that:

  • The police officer was not within the realm of their job duties.
  • The police officer violated an individual’s civil rights.
  • If you can prove police misconduct, you can overturn qualified immunity. Then, civil claims can be filed, which allow the injured or harmed parties to obtain compensation. The person whose rights were violated can file this claim. If they didn’t survive because of the officer’s actions, their loved ones and family members can file on their behalf.

    Understanding AB 392

    California law allows police officers to use deadly force in some circumstances. This can make it more challenging to overturn qualified immunity and have a civil claim or criminal charges pressed against the officer, as deadly force may be within their required duties.

    AB 392 became effective in January 2020. It amends the standards for determining if a homicide is justified by police officers. Now, a police officer’s use of force is judged based on objectively reasonable force. A police officer should only use deadly force when absolutely necessary and only to defend human life.

    In 79% of police shootings in California from 2016 to 2021, the police officer or officers did not attempt to use non-lethal force before shooting. You will want a qualified civil rights attorney on your side who can investigate the incident and determine if a civil claim can be made against an officer. For charges or claims to be possible, the court must find that the officer could have used other measures prior to lethal force.


    Q: How Often Does Police Misconduct Occur?

    A: There were 9,630 civilian complaints of police misconduct in California in 2021, 959 of which ruled in favor of the civilian. From 2016 to 2021, there were a total of 60,719 complaints of misconduct, 9% of which ended up in favor of the civilian. The information on these civilian complaints comes from over 400 police and sheriff departments in the state and does not represent the entire state’s misconduct reports. Misconduct reports can be false, and much misconduct goes unreported.

    Q: What Is the Most Common Complaint Against Police?

    A: Some of the most common claims of misconduct against police officers include:

    • False arrest. An officer must have a warrant or probable cause to make an arrest.
    • Malicious prosecution. This is a false arrest with malicious intent, and it can also be caused by the actions or inactions of others in the court case.
    • Use of excessive force. Police officers can use force, but it must be reasonable to the situation.

    Q: What Are Examples of Police Abuse of Power?

    A: Police abuses of power include:

    • Illegal searches and seizures
    • Unlawful detentions
    • Evidence fabrication or planting evidence
    • Forging warrants or arrest records
    • Failure to read Miranda rights
    • Coercion and blackmail
    • Racial profiling
    • False arrests
    • False imprisonments
    • Malicious prosecution
    • Wrongful convictions
    • Sexual assault
    • Police brutality
    • Excessive or unnecessary use of force
    • Any Constitutional rights violations

    Q: Who Investigates Wrongful Deaths by Police in California?

    A: In California, the California Department of Justice is responsible for any event where a police shooting resulted in a civilian death if that civilian was unarmed. The Department will investigate the situation and determine if there is a criminal or civil liability and if the proper procedures were followed. A good civil rights attorney can tell if your case was properly investigated.

    Legal Support From Exum Law Offices

    When you have lost a loved one due to police violence, it can be hard to know where to turn. Exum Law Offices want to help you get the compensation you deserve for the loss of support, pain and suffering, and other harm. Contact our team today to see how we can help.