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Police Brutality: Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 Case Study

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Updated: Jul 7th, 2021

Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, is a court case that took place in the USA in 1989. Graham sued a police officer, Connor, for an inappropriate manner of making an investigative stop. In this essay, a summary of the Graham and Connor case and the decision of the court will be introduced. Also, ethical issues and the reasons why this case is unethical will be discussed. At the end of the paper, a conclusion that summarizes the main ideas of this paper will be included.

The situation that resulted in the judicial proceedings happened to a man, Graham, and a police officer, Connor. When Graham was trying to buy some orange juice in the store, the police officer became suspicious about Graham’s behavior and decided to stop him for investigation. During this investigation, Graham felt sick as he had diabetes and needed to eat something sweet. However, Connor allowed him neither to drink the juice nor to get the medicine, which resulted in the deterioration of Graham’s health conditions.

Eventually, Connor could not find any crime that was allegedly committed by Graham and let him go. After the investigation, Graham had a broken foot, an injured shoulder, and a number of bruises on his body. Therefore, he appealed to the Supreme Court to claim his civil rights.

The decision of the Supreme Court did not support Graham, as it stated that, according to the Fourth Amendment, detentions and investigative stops imply using physical force (Logel, 2018). The court also added that there is a list of situations when police officers’ use of force is considered reasonable. It should be decided by a police officer if using force is justified in a particular case or not (Obasogie & Newman, 2018). Therefore, it could not be determined if the use of force was reasonable as it happened in the past, and there were no court representatives at that moment.

Even though this case is considered a law enforcement case, it can be called unethical because some moral principles were violated by the police officer. There are a number of law enforcement ethical issues that police officers are faced within their daily life. These ethical issues include off-duty life, which implies that they have to act all the time professionally, even when they are not working. It also includes dealing with contradictions between law and people’s rights and profiling when a police officer has just a few seconds to make a decision about further actions.

One of the most significant ethical issues is using necessary force. As it was mentioned above, all police officers have the right to use necessary force in the process of detention or investigative stop. However, the officers have to be sure that the use of force is justified, as it is stated in the Fourth Amendment. It turns out to be difficult as, in most cases, police officers have only several seconds to decide what level of force should be used.

Necessary force is the ethical issue that the police officer, Connor, raised when he decided to stop Graham for investigation. Indeed, it is difficult to determine what level of force was supposed to be used by the police officer when the situation happened. There were no court representatives or any other legal officers there at the time that could make a professional and unbiased judgment about Connor’s actions. However, according to the information about this case, it can be suggested that Connor used excessive levels of force. It means that he used violence to arrest an unarmed person who was not offering violent resistance (Gerber & Jackson, 2017).

In case this suggestion is correct, Connor appears as a police officer who failed to make the right decision about the level of force that should have been applied to Graham. It is worth noticing that unnecessary brutality and unjustified use of force by police officers result in the loss of respect and public confidence in them (Rosenbaum, 2016). To avoid this scenario, there is a number of reforms implemented in the US in terms of police administration in the 20th century. Nevertheless, situations similar to the case of Graham and Connor still take place in the US.

Another unethical factor of this court case is that the police officer, Connor, dealt with a very sick man who needed help. Preventing a seriously ill person from getting medical help is a violation of the moral principles of human beings. Therefore, this behavior can be considered unprofessional, immoral, and unethical. Police officers are supposed to work not only with criminal cases but also assist people with a wide range of social problems, which includes aiding sick people (Lamin & Teboh, 2016).

Trying to perform one of his duties and prevent imaginary crime allegedly committed by Graham, the officer failed to deliver another duty and help this individual to get medical help. Moreover, the fact that Graham did not feel well and fainted shows that he could not actively resist Connor, and there was no need to use force.

One more piece of evidence of the unethical behavior of the police officer is the abuse of his authority. Even though Connor had the right to stop Graham for investigation, it is obvious that there were no important reasons to do this. Connor did not explain what kind of crime Graham was suspected of and when he would be free to go. In other words, not only the use of force toward Graham is unjustified but also his detention next to the store. Thus, taking into account that there were no crimes to be investigated, it is possible to assert that Connor violated Graham’s civil rights.

Thus, it is evident that this case has several ethical issues. While there is no available data about testimonies of all the participants and witnesses of the case, more details about it are absent. Nevertheless, judging by the information about the case provided in social media and some research sources, it can be suggested that Connor did not follow described ethical principles.

Consequently, it can be concluded that the Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 case is unethical because Connor failed to follow some ethical and moral principles. These principles are the reasonability of using necessary force, aiding sick people, and abuse of authority. Unfortunately, judging by the information open to the public, these aspects were ignored by the police officer. However, it is necessary to stress that sticking to ethical principles is crucial for police officers as it facilitates public trust and helps in the decision-making process.


Gerber, M., & Jackson, J. (2017). Justifying violence: Legitimacy, ideology and public support for police use of force. Psychology, Crime & Law, 23(1), 79–95.

Lamin, S. A., & Teboh, C. (2016). Police social work and community policing. Cogent Social Sciences, 2(1). Web.

Logel, C. (2018). Cracking Graham: Police department policy and excessive force. Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy, 20(27), 27–48.

Obasogie, O. K., & Newman, Z. (2018). The futile Fourth Amendment: Understanding police excessive force doctrine through an empirical assessment of Graham v. Connor. Northwestern University Law Review, 112(6), 1465–1474.

Rosenbaum, D. (2016). Special issue on police integrity: An introduction. Policing: An International Journal, 39(2). Web.

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IvyPanda. "Police Brutality: Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/police-brutality-graham-v-connor-490-us-386/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Police Brutality: Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386." July 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/police-brutality-graham-v-connor-490-us-386/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Police Brutality: Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386'. 7 July.

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