Bottom Line
Road Law
File that complaint

Jeff McConnell
James Mennella
attorneys at law

In this issue of Land Line, we address a common complaint among many drivers and what options might be available when law enforcement becomes abusive. Specifically, how you file a grievance rather than a lawsuit. Here is the truth.

Question: I entered a scale house, and my required paperwork wasn’t in order. I knew the officer was going to issue some citations, but he went overboard in belittling my profession and me. Can I sue this officer?

Answer: This is a good question and we don’t want to get too technical. Generally, when you bring a civil suit against a state official or an officer that was acting in their official capacity, you sue the state agency responsible for that individual. Also, due to the nature of suing a state or municipality, the Tort Claims Act may limit your damages. 

There is nothing that would prevent a suit from being filed as long as you could make your case under the appropriate legal theory. However, factor in legal fees and the costs involved, and it may be cost prohibitive if you can’t find a lawyer that will work on a contingency.

Usually, the best way to address this issue is to file a grievance with the officer’s supervisor and/or with internal affairs. (See the next question/answer.)

Question: I had a run-in with an officer who acted totally improper during a roadside inspection. I didn’t receive any citations, but I want to report this officer to someone. What do I do?

Answer: If you feel that an officer or any state official has acted in a manner that is inconsistent or unprofessional, and you haven’t been physically assaulted or suffered some economic harm, then you’ll want to file a complaint. Filing a complaint will do to the officer exactly what he/she is trying to do to you by issuing you a ticket. Just like having a traffic conviction listed on your MVR, filing a grievance puts a blemish on the officers’ employment history. So, whenever the officer is up for a raise or promotion, his/her employment file will be reviewed and, if it’s full of grievances, it’s doubtful the officer will be given a raise or promotion.

Generally, you’ll need to do some research as to who the person is. Does a county, city or state employ the person? Is the department large or small? In most cases, if you are dealing with a large department, there is a bureau of internal affairs that deals with complaints against officers. However, in many smaller departments, complaints need to be addressed to an officer’s supervisor, which may be his sergeant or in some cases the chief of police.

Remember, document your concerns and issues before making contact with any department to file a grievance. It is your job to bring the problem to their attention and cooperate with any requests they may have. After that, it is an internal investigation, which will either result in some disciplinary action or no disciplinary action. You may or may not be able to find out the exact result of a disciplinary action because personnel files are generally confidential. You may only find out your grievance was filed and investigated.

We hope you can use the information in this column to help with everyday, real-life problems you face on the road. We invite you to send us any questions or comments you may have regarding transportation law to Road Law, 1330 N. Classen Blvd., Suite 215, Oklahoma City, OK 73106; fax to (405) 272-0558; contact us through our Web site at or call us at (405) 272-0555. We look forward to hearing from you