False Imprisonment

A person may be liable both civilly and criminally for an offense. A person who has been falsely imprisoned may file an action against the alleged person committing the offense and seek monetary damages against both the person committing the imprisonment and possibly the person’s employer.

In a civil action, a wrongful confinement requires the following elements:

The person was in custody, there was an unnecessary delay in releasing the person, the individual did not consent to the delay, the individual was harmed and the person conducting the confinement’s actions was a substantial factor in causing harm to the individual. (CACI 1407)

When a person is detained for even a short period of time, when that person reasonably believes that he or she is not free to go, a false imprisonment can occur. Remember, every time you stop a person and question him or her for an appreciable length of time and the person reasonably believes he or she is not free to leave, the stop and questioning could be deemed false imprisonment. Of course, the person would have to show he or she suffered “harm” as a result of your actions. The “harm” could be physical or psychological in nature.

Usually, this tort arises when a person is detained by a security officer and is taken into a back office and questioned against his or her will. That is, they did not “consent” to being detained and questioned.

Here, it is absolutely critical that your documents articulate in extreme detail the reasons for your inquiry, the detention, the method of questioning, and the exact length of the detention. Witnesses are always helpful to establish the reasonableness of your actions. For example, people claiming false arrest often also claim they were beaten, tortured or unmercifully interrogated during the back office detention – claims that are almost always patently untrue! A witness can corroborate your report and help justify your actions.

Malicious Prosecution

If a security officer causes an individual to be arrested and prosecuted knowing there was no probable cause to have the person arrested, the officer could be liable for the tort of malicious prosecution.

The elements for a malicious prosecution action are:

  1. That the defendant was actively involved in causing plaintiff to be prosecuted or in causing the continuation of the prosecution;
  2. That the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff’s favor;
  3. That Defendant did not reasonably believe facts supporting probable cause existed;
  4. That defendant acted primarily for a purpose other than that of bringing Plaintiff to justice;
  5. That plaintiff was harmed; and
  6. That defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.

If the criminal defendant (who is the Plaintiff in the civil action) wins his case and can prove he was falsely accused, the security officer might be liable. Thus, it is important to look at all of the facts carefully before calling the police.