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Police Brutality Gambit

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"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

A suspect has been arrested and is being interrogated by the police. Suddenly, they attack themselves or trick the officer into attacking them, and then falsely sue the officer of Police Brutality with the help of an Ambulance Chaser.

A subtrope of Wounded Gazelle Gambit which occurs in Police Procedurals.

Not to be confused with Good Cop/Bad Cop, where police use the threat of brutality as a gambit.

See also Arrested for Heroism. Not related to Suicide by Cop, where the individual concerned is trying to force a police officer to kill them.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In one chapter of Cat's Eye a perp does his worse to piss off the police officers interrogating him and trying to save him from whatever Cat's Eye would do him for stealing their target for a heist, and upon getting punched by a fed-up officer he starts claiming police brutality. It bites him back in the ass when Hitomi disguises herself as Asatani and uses the situation to trick the police to leave alone her with the perp, who nearly gets a heart attack.
  • One episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex starts with an off-duty Togusa coming to the aid of a woman being chased by an armed cyborg; Togusa has no choice but to aim at the cyborg's arms and legs just to disable him, but the cyborg still manages to shoot the woman and kill her anyway. The cyborg's defence (with the help of a corrupt District Attorney) tries to claim Togusa has a grudge against cyborgs (on the grounds that being the only baseline human in a team full of them gave him an Inferiority Superiority Complex) and accuse him of excessive force (with the intention of blackmailing Section 9 through it). There was enough incriminating evidence to give the criminal his own proper trial for murder anyway, but Section 9 weren't happy about how Togusa was treated; the cyborg and his attorney had an unfortunate car accident.

  • 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). His case is helped by the fact that earlier in the film, Callahan did brutalize him. 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.
  • In the Australian thriller The Interview (not to be confused with a controversial Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy), the suspect tells the police he will confess to several murders they don't even know about in exchange for some lunch. He confesses in detail while sharing a huge plate of fish and chips with the two cops, but then recants, claiming they intentionally starved him and he made up everything he told them just to get something to eat.
  • In the climax of Horrible Bosses, Harken tries to frame Nick Dale and Kurt for Bobby Pellit's murder by shooting himself in the leg and playing the victim in front of the police. Fortunately, the trio used a recording on Kurt's car to expose Harken as the real culprit.
  • 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 (My New Partner) 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 Corrupt Cop senior partner arrives just after and scolds the rookie for not using a phonebook instead, because that wouldn't leave any traces.

  • 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 sympathized with) could be used as evidence against the cops.
  • There's no violence involved, but in An Uncertain Place, by Fred Vargas, part of Emma Carnot's plan to demolish Adamsberg's career involves planting false evidence in order for the rest of the police to think that Adamsberg himself planted the evidence in order to accuse Vaudel's son of being the murderer.
  • In Hercule Poirot's Christmas, Magdalene Lee goes into hysterics and rushes away as she and her husband George are being interrogated, and George (who's in Parliament) promises to raise questions of police brutality in the House and slams the door. She returns later alone to admit she was calling her lover on the night of the murder and therefore wanted to get George away.
  • Evidence of Things Not Seen: When a cop tries to arrest Alvin, he repeatedly smashes his own head into the car door, hoping that his threat of a police brutality complaint will get the cop to leave him alone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • CSI: Miami. One of the Big Bads does this. Horatio is forced to release him until the medical examiner shows that the injuries were self-inflicted. 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.
  • CSI: NY:
    • A random crook tries this by slamming his head on the interrogation room table, and Mac simply points out how easy it would be for them to prove that neither he 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 pedophile and took an overdose of pills, which caused him to collapse. Flack is cleared at the end of the 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 Inside, a psychopathic little girl throws herself out of a treehouse and breaks her arm, pointing the finger at Agent Locke, who had just confronted her with evidence that she's the murderer of the week.
  • JAG: In "Survivors", a Shell Shocked Marine Colonel intends to take his son, whom he believes to be the reincarnation of a war buddy from The Vietnam War, to a cabin in the woods. Faced with an arrest warrant, he has a scuffle with an unsympathetic deputy sheriff at a gas station. Having almost reached the cabin, with the help of Harm, the cops also arrive. The incensed deputy sheriff tries to arrest Harm, but Meg claims that she has a tape from a surveillance camera at the gas station, which would show that the deputy sheriff had committed acts of Police Brutality. Although it's later revealed that Meg had no such video, the deputy sheriff had in fact been more brutal than necessary at the gas station and backed off from arresting Harm as a precaution.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • 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. And once again that Internal Affairs agent instantly believes the perp.
  • 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.
  • Millennium (1996). A Creepy Child does this to discredit Frank Black.
  • Monk covered this in the episode "Mr. Monk Goes to the Carnival". Murderer Leonard Stokes comes up with a plan to get his confession to murder by showing the officer who arrested him. Lt. Adam Kirk, uses police brutality and did so to get the confession. He recruits his friend John Gitomer to arrange to meet Kirk at the carnival and ride the Ferris wheel. There, he will shake around and call for help, claiming to be attacked. With John having bruised himself ahead of time, it will look more like Kirk attacked him. Unbeknownst to John, however, Stokes' girlfriend operates the Ferris wheel, and in running up to "check on" John, she stabs him in the chest, as the plan is actually to frame Kirk for murder.
  • 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.
  • In the pilot episode of RoboCop: The Series, 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.
  • 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.
    Aceveda: What did you do?!
    Mackey: Nothing!
  • Space Precinct: A sort of third-party variant comes up in one episode when Brogan and Haldane are off the street for the duration of an investigation into an officer-involved shooting. It should have been a routine inquiry, there were two witnesses and video evidence of the suspect opening fire... but suddenly those witnesses are claiming Brogan just shot the guy for no apparent reason other than he wasn't in the mood for a long pursuit, and that video evidence has suddenly gone missing... It turns out that Brogan was due to testify in the trial of a local mob boss, who had hired a woman from a race with Psychic Powers to dump evidence and interfere with the witnesses in the hope that this would discredit him as a witness for the prosecution.
  • Referenced in The Wire: Bird is injured during his arrest, so Landsman takes a Polaroid of his existing injuries so he can't claim they were inflicted in custody. But Bird is so insulting to his interrogators that Daniels ritually tears up the Polaroid in front of him before he, Landsman and Greggs commence with a three-man beat-down.
  • World's Dumbest...:
    • A memorably funny instance on one episode: a guy punches a cement wall, then starts screaming about how the police had broken his hand during the arrest. When informed that he's on camera, he curls up on his bunk and starts crying.
    • At least two other instances involve a guy banging his head against the partition in the police car in full view of the car's camera saying how he's going to get out/get back at the cop due to 'police brutality'.
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Tooms", 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.


    Video Games 
  • Inverted in Ripper, where Detective Magnotta beats up Jake Quinlan in the interrogation room, then scratches himself with a knife so he can claim he was defending himself.

    Visual Novels 
  • Zigzagged in Daughter for Dessert. Mortelli plans the gambit with the protagonist and Saul to render the protagonist's written confession to breaking into Cecilia's hotel room void.

    Web Comics 
  • Gaia: Viviana combined this with Batman Gambit: She allowed herself to be captured by the Canian military, as part of her plan to incite rebellion. She snuck recording devices in with her, betting on the Canians looking going straight to torturing her, due to her past as leader of The Shadowdancers. She figured her people would get her out before the Canians could do any real damage to her (or at least was prepared to make that sacrifice). She didn't count on Eldor strolling in, slaughtering half her captors, and kidnapping her for his own purposes.

    Western Animation 
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Through Imperial Eyes", Ezra makes it look like Agent Kallus was beating him to get a confession. Unlike most examples, however, this is because the person supposedly using Police Brutality is actually The Mole, and they're trying to avoid getting him caught. The government in question couldn't care less about their officers committing police brutality, and would even encourage it (said The Mole is implied to have willingly beat up prisoners in the past when he was still loyal, hence why the characters are trying to keep this image up).


Video Example(s):


Magdalena Lee

Magdalena Lee pretends to be traumatized by her interrogation to avoid confessing that she is cheating on her husband.

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