Professionals give advice on rights, interacting with police


Police authority

Dave Gong

You’re driving down Lincoln Highway after a late-night study session, when all of a sudden you see flashing red and blue lights behind you. The police are pulling you over, what do you do?

“The police are going to do what they’re going to do,” said Donald Henderson, director of Students’ Legal Assistance. “The best advice is not to actively interfere with what they are doing.”

According to information provided by Students’ Legal Assistance, while citizens should not resist or run from the police, they do not have to consent to a search of their person or belongings.

Henderson said students sometimes come to Students’ Legal Assistance to ask about whether police conduct during an incident was legal. While an officer being rough with a suspect does not necessarily mean excessive force was used, police misconduct is actionable from a legal standpoint.

“Where that line falls is where cases come up,” Henderson said. “Civil lawsuits can be brought against an officer or the police department.”

Henderson said while a citizen should never resist a police officer, they should at least vocalize that they do not consent to what the officer is doing.

“Under the law, resisting is any act that interferes with a police officer doing their job,” Henderson said. “You can be innocent of the underlying reason, but guilty of resisting.”

Henderson said citizens should also never lie to the police, but do not have to answer any question the police may ask. This is part of every citizen’s Fifth Amendment right.

The Fifth Amendment states, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Complaints against police officers do happen from time to time, said DeKalb Police Sgt. Jason Leverton.

There is a two-tiered procedure for investigating complaints, Leverton said. One involves an internal investigation done by the DeKalb Police Department.

“Certainly we can investigate ourselves,” Leverton said. “There is a procedure within the police department where we can investigate and discipline officers ourselves.”

Leverton said the other procedure involves oversight from the City of DeKalb, including a written form submitted to the office of the city manager.

City Manager Mark Biernacki said if there is a complaint against the police, his office will have a police lieutenant investigate the claim, which includes contacting the complainant and the officer the complaint is filed against. Citizens can file complaints with the police department directly, or file a complaint with the city manager’s office, which will forward the complaint to the appropriate people in the police department.

Biernacki said if a citizen feels their rights have been violated or have been discriminated against, the claim goes to the Human Relations Commission, which is a group of people appointed by the mayor to investigate claims.

“We receive maybe four or five complaints a year at most,” Biernacki said.

Biernacki said there are two forms available citizens can fill out in order to file complaints. The first is the Citizen Complaint Procedure and Form, available on the city’s website.

“The purpose of this policy is to establish a formal procedure for filing and investigating citizen complaints related to their treatment by City employees,” the form states.

Biernacki said the other form is for citizens who feel their rights have been violated in some fashion. The form is called the HRC Complaint Form and is also available on the city’s website.