The FBI is the primary federal agency responsible for investigating possible violations of federal civil rights statutes. These laws are designed to protect the civil rights of every person within the United States—citizens and non-citizens alike.
Since its earliest days, the FBI has helped protect the civil rights of the American people, and it remains one of the Bureau’s top priorities.
Using all of its investigative and intelligence capabilities, the Bureau works closely with its partners to prevent and address hate crimes, color of law violations, and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act violations.
The FBI has also established relationships with state and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, non-governmental organizations, and community and minority groups. We work to improve the reporting of civil rights violations, promote the benefits of sharing information and intelligence, and develop proactive strategies for identifying and addressing trends in this field.
Color of Law Violations
Law enforcement officers and other officials like judges and prosecutors have been given tremendous power by local, state, and federal government agencies—authority they must have to enforce the law and ensure justice in our country. These powers include the authority to detain and arrest suspects, to search and seize property, to bring criminal charges, to make rulings in court, and to use deadly force in certain situations.
Preventing abuse of this authority, however, is equally necessary to the health of our nation’s democracy. That’s why it’s a federal crime for anyone to use their position to willfully deprive or conspire to deprive a person of a right protected by the Constitution or U.S. law.
The FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating color of law violations, which include acts carried out by government officials operating both within and beyond the limits of their lawful authority. Off-duty conduct may be covered if the perpetrator used their official status in some way.
Color of law violations include, but are not limited to:
Sexual assault: Sexual assault by officials acting under color of law can happen in jails, during traffic stops, or in other settings where officials might use their position of authority to coerce an individual.
False arrest and obstruction of justice: The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right against unreasonable searches or seizures and prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment. The Fourteenth Amendment secures the right to due process—meaning a person accused of a crime must be allowed the opportunity to have a trial.
Deprivation of medical care: People in custody have a right to medical treatment for serious medical needs. An official acting under color of law who recognizes the serious medical need, but knowingly and willfully denies or prevents access to medical care may have committed a federal violation.
Failure to keep from harm: The public counts on its law enforcement officials to protect local communities. If it’s shown that an official willfully failed to keep an individual from harm, that official could be in violation of the color of law statute.
Filing a Complaint
To file a color of law complaint, contact your local FBI office. You should be prepared to provide as much information and detail as possible.
FBI investigations vary in length. Once our investigation is complete, we forward the findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office within the local jurisdiction and to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., which decide whether or not to proceed toward prosecution and handle any prosecutions that follow.
The U.S. Department of Justice has additional information on reporting other types of civil rights violations.