Can you legally stop a cop who has his knee on someone's neck, suffocating?

Just wondering where I would stand legally if I saw a cop doing a George Floyd in front of me today: Kneeing someone’s neck while he is down, the guy says “I can’t breathe” and the cop keeps pressing down anyway, and death by asphyxiation appears imminent. If I forcibly move the cop off his neck, am I interfering unlawfully with the cop? (Of course, his cop buddies would probably intervene, but let’s ignore that)

Isn’t there some legal requirement to render aid to those in physical jeopardy? (depends state by state?)

You’re tap dancing on amazingly thin ice by interfering with a police officer’s actions. No matter how obviously clear cut that you believe it is that the officer’s actions are unacceptable and excessive, the officers word is paramount until proven otherwise by a higher authority.

I’m not saying your actions in defense of the restrained suspect are wrong and I’m not saying you can’t be vindicated once the dust settles. I am saying that everything hinges on what you can prove. When trying to defend yourself or other against the police and the courts, video recordings are your best friend.

I don’t think interfering would be a good idea for lots of different reasons, and you would likely be arrested yourself. The best thing you can do is to take out your phone and start filming, and letting the cop know you are filming…

This is a difficult one I’ve wondered about. I think there’s a moral requirement to come to the aid of somebody who is being attacked or killed on the street, and can imagine there might be a legal requirement too. There was a case where cops were kicking a woman lying on the ground holding a baby not so long ago that was really troubling.

No doubt, cops could attack and hurt or kill somebody coming to the aid of whoever they’re working over. It wouldn’t be that big a surprise if the justice system would back them up later. It also wouldn’t be that big a surprise if trying to rescue or shield the victim made them angrier at the victim, too.

A friend of the family’s was grabbed by Philadelphia cops, beaten badly, and dumped in an alley, years ago. It has sensitized us to the need for some kind of alternative force that could bring power to bear when the cops were on the wrong side. I don’t know any good options here, though.

IANAL (and you would seriously need a lawyer after this) but I believe that legally speaking you would have the right to pull the officer off the person. Self-defense laws generally allow you to use reasonable minimal force to save another person who is being threatened with death or serious injury. And there’s no exception made in the law for using that force against a person who is a police officer.

And now the reality:

  1. There are also laws against interfering with a police officer in the performance of his duties. Which you are breaking. You’re going to have to argue that you determined that the police officer’s actions fell outside of the performance of his duties. And you’re going to have to get a judge and jury to agree with you.

  2. Self-defense requires that the person you are defending be facing a serious threat of death or serious injury. The police officer’s lawyer is going to argue that you misunderstood the situation. He’s going to say that the police officer is professionally trained in restraint techniques and you are not. So your judgement that the man on the ground was in danger was wrong. Again, you’re going to have to convince a judge and jury to believe you instead of the police officer.

  3. In addition to facing charges of interfering with a police office in the performance of his duties, you’ll probably face charges of assaulting a police officer depending on what kind of force you use. Again, you have to hope that a judge and jury rules that you were justified on the basis of acting in self-defense.

  4. Putting aside all of the legal issues that would arise afterwards, you have to think about your ability to accomplish the act. That police officer may be in the middle of kneeling on somebody’s neck. But he’s got training in self-defense and you probably don’t. And he’s probably got a nightstick and a gun. And there’s probably a few other cops around and maybe some other civilians who think the cop is doing the right thing. You’re probably going to end up in a situation where the amount of force you can bring to the situation is not enough. You’ll end up being the guy who’s on the ground with a police officer kneeling on your neck.

  5. Self-defense laws generally say you may act to defend yourself or another person. They generally do not say you must. And even if they do say you must, there’s going to be an exception saying you do not have to act if doing so would place you in danger. So there would be no legal requirement for you to act in a situation like this.

Ordinarily, that’s a good idea. But filming won’t bring back George Floyd from the dead.

Even then I am not sure it would help. You interfered with a police officer in the course of their duties.

I do not have a cite right now but, IIRC, there have been cases where someone was held in contempt of court and later it was deemed the individual was right but was still held in contempt of court. Joe Citizen is not free to ignore the court because he feels he is right…even if he IS right.

So, you tackling the cop will almost certainly see you in prison even if you had a good reason for it. The State does not want people deciding when it is ok to tackle cops.

That said, the optics and political fallout might save you if it is a high profile case and you are a hero in the public eye. That said, 99,999 out of 100,000 times you are probably fucked.

It’s a great way to get shot dozens of times.

No, but it might just save the next George Floyd.

Time will tell.

While at the same time helping convince the police hierarchy that too many Chauvins on the force cause trouble they don’t need. And yes, one Chauvin is too many.

Agree. No chauvinist should be tolerated.

Hasn’t saved the last couple of hundred George Floyds. Or Floyd himself.
And in the current situation, where cops filmed still get off, just filming is unlikely to discourage anyone.

I’m pretty sure, in big city police forces, the corruption runs deep and is rampant. No doubt there are good cops but when it comes to bad apples there are more than one.

See the documentary: Serpico

Until they take your phone after making up the law that you can’t video officers in public. Before anyone says, “Cad you can’t say that in GQ.” it has been know to happen in real life.

Especially how there are two defenses the courts love kowtow to

  1. Qualified Immunity
  2. Ignorance of the law is a defense if you are a law enforcement officer.

No, cops are pretty clean nowadays. That was from the late 1960’s, now six decades ago.

The issue with cops isnt corruption or racism- it’s anger. This builds up in uniformed cops, as the see the revolving door in action. Then some dude wiseacres to them, resists arrest, and then the cop’s anger snaps and he goes too far. :frowning:

They need more anger management courses for big city police.

Yeah…sure. :rolleyes:

(that news broke five years ago…not fifty)

In many cases, they wouldn’t be making up that law. There are places were they really have enacted laws against recording the police.

That’s why you should livestream the police or any other misconduct you see going on in public. Learn to use one of those services that uploads your video into the cloud while you are shooting before you need to use it.