Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Worst Cases of Police Brutality in History

Police have a civic duty to protect and serve individuals, but like most people who hold a great deal of authority, their powers are sometimes abused. Unfortunately, police brutality is a common occurrence around the world, and it’s often accompanied by several other examples of police misconduct. Out of the hundreds of police brutality cases that have gone to court and gone unreported, these are the 10 worst cases in history:

  1. Robert Davis

    Robert Davis, a retired elementary school teacher from New Orleans, was arrested and brutally beaten by police on suspicion of public intoxication. On the night of Oct. 9, 2005, just a little over a month after Hurricane Katrina, Davis returned to New Orleans to check on his family’s property and went to the French Quarter to buy cigarettes. There, he was attacked by four police officers who said he was belligerent and resisted arrest by not allowing them to handcuff him. The beatings were videotaped by an Associated Press producer, who was also assaulted that night. The officers were either fired or suspended for their involvement, but many of the charges against them were cleared.

  2. Frank Jude

    In 2004, 26-year-old Frank Jude was viciously beaten by several off-duty Milwaukee police officers as he was leaving a party. The group of men attacked Jude and his friend, Lovell Harris, claiming they stole one of the officer’s wallets that contained a police badge. Harris’ face was cut with a knife, but he was able to get free and run away. Jude was repeatedly punched and kicked, as well as stabbed in the ears with a pen. Even the on-duty officer who was called to stop the fight began stomping on Jude’s head. In the state trial, the jury acquitted the three officers charged. There was a great deal of community outrage and demand for a federal investigation. The federal grand jury convicted the three officers who were originally acquitted, but did acquit the fourth officer.

  3. Steve Biko

    Steve Biko was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the black consciousness movement in South Africa. Biko was devoted to empowering black people and ending apartheid, but his message was cut short when the outspoken leader was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967. While in police custody at Port Elizabeth, Biko was interrogated for a grueling 22 hours, which included torture and beatings that caused him to fall into a coma. While in prison, Biko suffered a major head injury and was allegedly chained to a window grill all day. Biko was then transported to another prison with hospital facilities in Pretoria, but died upon arrival. Even though police claimed that his death was caused by a hunger strike, it was later announced that he actually died from the head injuries he received in prison. The policemen involved in Biko’s beatings were denied an amnesty by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but they were also never prosecuted.

  4. Rodney King

    In 1991, a videotape circulated around the world of Rodney King being beaten by L.A.P.D. officers after they put an end to the 8-mile high speed chase. Once surrounded, King and his two friends were ordered to step out of the vehicle and lie face down on the ground. King refused to comply, but eventually got out of the car and resisted an arrest. Once King got physical with some of the officers, they shot him with a Taser gun to knock him to the ground. He was then beaten multiple times with a baton and kicked repeatedly. The video was a media sensation and it became one of the biggest police brutality cases in history. After the state trial, three of the four L.A.P.D. officers were acquitted and the jury didn’t reach a verdict for the fourth. The acquittals sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots and eventually led to a federal trial where two officers were found guilty and the other two were acquitted.

  5. Sean Bell

    Sean Bell was killed by NYPD detectives who fired 50 times at the car Bell and his friends were riding in on Nov. 25, 2006. On the night of the shooting, a group of undercover officers were investigating a Queens, New York, strip club that was allegedly allowing prostitution. Bell was having his bachelor party at that club the same night. Following a confrontation that happened inside the club, one of the officers overheard Bell’s friend talk about getting his gun. In order to stop a shooting from happening, the officer confronted Bell and his friends while they were in the car and ordered them to stop. Bell started to drive off and the officer thought he saw a gun in the car, so he and the other police opened fire on the car. After the nonjury trial came to an end, the judge found all three detectives not guilty of manslaughter and assault.

  6. Timothy Thomas

    Timothy Thomas was tragically shot and killed by a Cincinnati police officer, who followed the young man down a dark alley and opened fire because he thought Thomas had a gun. The 19-year-old man had 14 open warrants at the time of the shooting, and, according to Officer Roach, he was given verbal commands to stop running but he did not comply. When Thomas began lowering his arms without instruction, Officer Roach opened fire and shot Thomas in the heart with a single bullet. There was no gun ever found on Thomas.

  7. Abner Louima

    Abner Louima is a Haitian immigrant who was brutally attacked and tortured by a white New York police officer on Aug. 9, 1997. NYPD officer, Justin Volpe, took Louima into the restroom of the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn and sodomized the young man with a broken broomstick and then put it in his face. In court, Volpe said that he thought Louima punched him in the head during a scuffle outside of a nightclub, but also admitted that he wanted to humiliate Louima regardless. Volpe left the police force and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Charles Schwarz was also sentenced to 15 years in prison for assisting Volpe in the assault. This incident brought greater awareness to the ongoing pattern of white New York police officers abusing black men and overstepping their authority.

  8. Robert Mitchell

    Robert Mitchell, a 16-year-old from Detroit, was tragically killed by police who said the teen was resisting arrest after a traffic stop. Police used a Taser gun on Mitchell who was running from his cousin’s car and into an abandoned house. The Taser gun that killed Mitchell sent 50,000 volts of electricity into him. Police defended their use of the non-lethal weapon was because the teen was resisting an arrest.

  9. Amadou Diallo

    An immigrant from Guinea, named Amadou Diallo, was shot and killed by New York police officers on the stoop of his apartment in February 1999. The four officers fired 41 times into the Bronx apartment building because they thought Diallo had a gun. The undercover officers said Diallo looked suspicious and thought he might have been assisting in a robbery or other criminal activity. Diallo didn’t follow the officers’ commands and when he reached into his pocket, the officers began shooting only to find out that he was unarmed and was holding his wallet in his hand. A year later, the four officers who shot Diallo were acquitted of second-degree murder and other charges.

  10. Kathryn Johnston

    Kathryn Johnston was tragically killed by two Atlanta police officers during a botched drug raid in 2006. The 92-year-old woman was alone inside her home when the officers burst in without warning. She fired at them with a handgun, injuring three of the men, and they fired back at Johnston, striking her five or six times. The officers were told by an undercover informant that he bought drugs from a dealer there named "Sam;" however, the man who claimed to be the informant said he never bought drugs at Johnston’s house. The two police officers involved in the shooting pleaded guilty to manslaughter and several other charges, and a third officer was also indicted in the murder case.