Police Brutality Gambit
"So, er, if you're being interrogated by the police and they're recording the interview, make sure every so often you go -" [claps his hands together] "-Ow!"—Milton Jones, Mock the Week
Officer O'Troper is in an interrogation room with Professor Evil, he's started getting somewhere. They found his fingerprints all over the Death Ray and they have a receipt for a fluxoid charger from Radio Shack. It's an open and shut- HEY! Why's the professor clawing at his own face? Prof. Evil then proceeds to cry Police Brutality and they're forced to release him, and he then finds an Ambulance Chaser and proceeds to unleash a Frivolous Lawsuit on poor old O'Troper.
A Sub-Trope of Wounded Gazelle Gambit which occurs in Police Procedurals. Basically a suspect injures himself and accuses the police of Police Brutality in order to try and get the charges dropped. Alternately, the suspect may incite the officer into hitting him.
In reality, this rarely works; real-life interrogations are sometimes filmed, while police cars normally have audio and video recorders running at all times. And both judges and juries are in general more disposed to believe the word of a cop when it comes down to a he-said, she-said situation (which can be unfortunate when the cop really is corrupt, but people trying to BS their way out of a conviction are far more common).
Not to be confused with Good Cop, Bad Cop, where police use the threat of brutality as a gambit.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex the defence attorney of a man who Togusa tried to stop (and failed, since he was a full body cyborg and managed to shoot her out of spite despite having all four of his limbs shot out) murdering a girl who'd turned him down tries to claim Togusa has a grudge against cyborgs and accuse him of excessive force. With the help of the procecution, who was trying to blackmail Section 9. It didn't end well for either lawyer.
Fan Fiction[edit | hide]
- Shinji and Warhammer 40 K has Shinji use this trick during a secret interrogation to get Gendo fired and locked up. In a subversion, Gendo had no problem hurting Shinji seconds earlier in such a way as to avoid leaving any marks, and he had struck Shinji in full view of others during a moment of weakness months earlier, so when Shinji started punching himself in the face as hard as he could, Gendo realized nobody would believe the truth.
- In Dirty Harry, the Scorpio Killer pays to have himself beaten up so he can blame Detective Callahan (who was following him around to prevent him from killing anyone). Callahan sees through this immediately, and tells Da Chief exactly how he figures he wasn't the one who did it:
Harry Callahan: 'Cause he looks too damn good, that's how.
- His case is helped by the fact that earlier in the film, Callahan did brutalize him (for a good reason, but still).
- Fight Club, albeit used on an employer rather than the police. When the unnamed protagonist is about to be fired, he tries blackmailing his boss by threatening to leak sensitive information. When that doesn't work, the protagonist starts throwing himself around the boss's office, breaking furniture and smearing his own blood everywhere while the boss looks on in a state of utter disbelief. When other people come in to find out what's going on, the protagonist begs for mercy. Crude but effective; the boss gives him a very generous severance package to avoid any more trouble.
- "For some reason it reminded me of my first fight. With Tyler."
- The very same ploy is used in a Pepsi ad in a job interview, all but one of the next interviewees fleeing in terror and assuring him the job. He turns out to be in cahoots with the "victim" of the faked beating. One wonders however why none of the scared job applicants called the cops or how that guy managed to be certain he'd be picked first to pull his stunt or that all the other people would run away in fear, as a single other interviewee could unravel the entire plan. Or for that matter, why the interviewer didn't use the information on that guy's job application to call the cops.
- In My New Partner, the Corrupt Cop pays a perp to do this on the rookie, as part of his ploy to corrupt him. He then tells poor rookie he's doing it all wrong, and proceeds to demonstrate ways of hitting perps without leaving a mark.
- In the Japanese film Pyrokinesis, the murderer from the first act flirts with the interrogating officer, causing her to playfully slap him. He immediately falls off his chair, causing a media frenzy and getting released. Of course, the protagonist being who she is, he might have been better off just getting convicted.
- French buddy cop comedy Les Ripoux has the rookie cop interrogating a suspect who immediately stands up and slams his face in the file cabinet repeatedly to fake police brutality. His senior partner arrives just after and is dismayed that he didn't use a phone book because that wouldn't leave any traces.
- Inverted on Law and Order Special Victims Unit where they know judges are more likely to side with cops than suspects. There was once a case where Stabler beat up a suspect who fought back and accidentally hit Benson. When asked about the badly beaten man's injuries, Cabot claimed that the only ones he had were on his fist were from punching the detective and threatened to charge him with assaulting a police officer. Another time, after it was pointed out that Fin and Stabler could be charged with assault after a particularly brutal interrogation, Fin just dismissed it and said he would like to see a lawyer try it. (Of course, it would have been hard in that case, because the assault was their response to the suspect saying he needed an attorney, so he was unlikely to ask for one again even if he had not committed suicide in the interrogation room.)
- One episode had a perp pull this on Stabler, claiming he followed him home after he was released and jumped him. The stuffy, unlikeable, Internal Affairs agent naturally brings Stabler in on these charges, believing the perp in an instant, but that might be because Elliot has a history of using the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
- SVU really likes this trope... In the episode "Delinquent", a variant of this trope is invoked when an arrested teen loudly accuses Stabler of "touching his junk" as a patrolman is walking by. Since they were in a storage room at the time (using it as temporary lock-up rather than throwing the kid in with the adult criminals) and had their backs to the door (because the kid's hands were cuffed behind him, and stabler was in the process of cuffing him to a rail), the patrolman could only testify in court to what he heard and what he didn't see.
- One of the Big Bads of CSI: Miami did this. Horatio was forced to release him until the medical examiner showed that the injuries were self-inflicted.
- Happens not once, but twice. The second time Horatio does not even do anything about it. Somehow putting cameras in the interrogation room must be too expensive. Probably because they blew the budget on those holographic Viewer Friendly Interfaces.
- By comparison, a random crook in CSI New York tried this, and Mac simply pointed out how neither him nor detective Flack could have injured him, so he hurt himself for nothing.
- An accidental version occurs a few episodes later when a teenager collapses while alone with Flack. It turns out that he was responsible for framing the Victim of the Week as being a paedophile and took an overdose of pills, which caused him to collapse. He's cleared in the following episode.
- In a previous episode, a Serial Killer whom Mac had been chasing for some time decided to throw himself off a building after being handcuffed so Mac would be accused of murder.
- In The Closer, Captain Raydor is royally pissed when she misses Christmas with the family because a Creepy Child makes some rather unconvincing claims about Pope beating him up in a closet with a baseball bat. Keep in mind, the kid's untouched, and her investigation is nothing but a technicality.
- In The X-Files the mutant serial killer Tooms sneaks into Mulder's apartment and beats himself up with one of his shoes, causing Mulder to be warned to stay away from him. The fact that Mulder ranted that Tooms was a killer mutant at his trial didn't help.
- Millennium. A Creepy Child does this to discredit Frank Black.
- Inverted in Reno 911!. After giving up chasing a Burger Fool mascot who disrespected them, officer Jones and Garcia have a friendly conversation with him about the chase. It comes the reasons why he was able to get away was because his milkshake costume was so heavily padded; the mascot invited the two to beat up on him with nightsticks to prove his invulnerability, to no avail. The three depart on friendly terms and soon after the milkshake guy gets hit by a speeding vehicle due to not looking both ways. But since the entire chase was filmed, it was easy work for Internal Affairs to recut it to look like the Reno cops intentionally beat up and pushed the poor man into traffic.
- This happened in an episode of Life - a suspect slammed his head onto a table and then started claiming that Crews was a crazy cop who pulled a knife on him earlier (which he did, while attempting to apprehend the suspect) and now was terrorizing him. They did have to let him go - not because of the fake injury (they had tapes) but the pulled-a-knife-on-him thing, which was kind of against the rules.
- In a sketch on Alas Smith and Jones, a criminal having been warned that anything he says may be taken down and used in evidence starts reciting (deadpan) "What are you doing officer? Stop hitting me..." as the constable dutifully writes it down.
- Referenced in The Wire: when Bird is arrested, a Polaroid is taken of his existing injuries so he can't claim they were inflicted in custody.
- Note that this does not stop the Baltimore Police Department from beating him. While he is handcuffed to a table, no less.
- And they ceremoniously tear up the Polaroid before they do it, just so Bird knows what's about to happen.
- Note that this does not stop the Baltimore Police Department from beating him. While he is handcuffed to a table, no less.
- Occasionally referenced in The Shield, but it's almost always subverted: Vic Mackey does employ police brutality, all the damn time, but he's so intimidating that the suspects will rarely if ever actually try to accuse him of it. One notable exception is when a suspect freaked out over Vic's bad cop methods and screamed police brutality, but Vic never even actually touched him. Vic is very confused.
- On The Inside a psychopathic little girl threw herself out of a treehouse and broke her arm, pointing the finger at Agent Locke who had just confronted her with evidence she was the murderer of the week.
- In the pilot episode of the live-action RoboCop show, during Robo's first attempt to arrest Cray Mallardo, Mallardo screams and bends over in a manner that makes it look like Robocop is beating him from the perspective of the security camera in the corner. It wouldn't have held up in court against Robo's memory files, but Robocop was shot by The Dragon with an enormous rifle the moment he left the building, rendering him unable to testify.
Literature[edit | hide]
- In the book The Invisible by Mats Wahl, one of the suspects smugly points out that the female cop who had struck her earlier (after said suspect rambled after killing and beating up the victim, who the female cop sympathsized with) could be used as evidence against the cops.
- Doesn't work so well in Real Life. Most of the time it comes down to the police officer's word against the suspect's, and most judges will end up siding with the cop.
- A memorably funny instance on a recent episode of The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest _______: a guy punched a cement wall, then started screaming about how the police had broken his hand during the arrest. When informed he was on camera, he curled up on his bunk and started crying.
- This trope is one of the main reasons why most jurisdictions have fitted out police interrogation rooms and cells with video cameras; it's a lot harder to pull this kind of stunt when it's all being videotaped. Of course, it acts as a deterrent to any officer who does feel like getting a bit too physical with a suspect as well.
- This trope is also discussed in Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, from which Homicide: Life on the Street took much inspiration. Whilst acknowledging that genuine police brutality does exist, the author notes that since most of the murders that the detectives face generally tend to occur to people that the detective neither has a particular personal stake in or occur between criminals, there's actually not a great deal of incentive for the cops to risk the case, their clear-up rates and their careers to rough up some local criminal simply to get him to confess to killing another local criminal.
- Course the book did have an example of a case blowing up when one detective said that they had a phonebook in the interview room to look up an address while the accused said they had beaten him with a phonebook.
- Michael Jackson claimed in an interview that he had been injured and mistreated when he was booked on child molestation charges in 2003. The police department in question released video and audio tape to discredit his claims, although Jackson's family still claimed that they were biased. The charges were investigated and eventually rejected the following year.
- A woman who was pulled over and arrested by a traffic cop in Palm Beach, Florida accused the cop of raping her. Luckily the police car's camera proved she was lying.