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Crowdfunding Police Brutality Cases: Justice or Just a Business?

The issue of police violence has been on everyone's mind lately. (To the point that the NYPD can't run a simple social media campaign without everyone pointing out their alleged misconduct.) And while prominent cases like Freddie Gray's get national attention, many smaller cases of abuse may slip through the cracks.

This is mostly due to the cost of litigating a police brutality claim: good lawyers aren't cheap and cases against cops rarely pay off. But what if victims of police brutality had deeper pockets? One new crowdfunding website aims to answer that question.

Social Change

We crowdfund everything these days, from small businesses to student loans, so why not use crowdfunding to pay for an attorney? Anoush Hakimi saw that potential when he started Trialfunder.com. As he told KPCC, "Trial Funder dot-com in its simplest terms is a catalyst for change and social justice."

And he may be right. By tapping into a large litigation fund, victims of less prominent or less slam-dunk cases of police brutality have a greater chance of prosecuting and maybe winning their claims. And the more police are held accountable for abuse, the more likely incidents of brutality would decrease.

Counting Change

But Hakimi also acknowledges he's in it for the money: "Ultimately what will make this a sustainable solution is if the returns are available to investors. It can't just be something that's viewed as a charitable act."

The investors, as of now, aren't your normal $10 or $20 contributors. Only accredited investors, those with sizeable assets and experience, are allowed to invest, and obviously they want a return on their investment. Trial Funder gives them 15 percent of any settlement or award from a police brutality case, and Hakimi also takes a fee. The lawyers will also get a cut, though smaller than if they took the case on their own, since in this model they take on less of a financial risk.

So what does that leave to victims? Considering these are smaller cases, and presumably smaller awards, that remains to be seen. Also unknown is how much input investors will have in the cases Trial Funder takes. But none of that uncertainty has deterred Hakimi, who notes the litigation crowdfunder will expand to personal injury and intellectual property claims.

If you've been the victim of police brutality, you may want to talk to an experienced criminal law attorney to see if you have an injury claim.

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