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In 1967, the Supreme Court carved out a “qualified immunity” exception that helps government officials: They couldn’t be sued if they were acting in good faith and didn’t know what they were doing was illegal. Over the years, the court expanded that doctrine so that now, even police officers who knowingly violate someone’s rights are protected—unless a court has ruled that their behavior was unconstitutional in a previous case involving nearly identical circumstances.
Last year, for example, a federal appeals court found that a police officer who shot a 10-year-old by mistake while aiming for the family’s dog was protected from liability under qualified immunity. The judges ruled that he couldn’t be held responsible because there wasn’t a previous case where an officer was found at fault in almost identical circumstances.
Qualified immunity has blocked lawsuits for people who were killed by police during arrests; a man who was shot and killed after a 911 dispatcher put him in harm’s way; and a man who gouged his own eyes out in jail after he was denied mental health care.
A political mix of civil rights advocates and civil libertarians has taken aim at qualified immunity, which Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has criticized as an “absolute shield” for officers accused of brutality.
Newman and her longtime friend Herod, a Black woman who is vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee in Colorado, built a bill using some of the state’s most egregious examples of police brutality as a guide for what practices needed to change. Some of their police accountability work ended up getting support from a broad coalition ranging from the ACLU to Colorado’s Fraternal Order of Police. Chokeholds are now banned, and most cops must keep their body cameras on during encounters with the public. However, ultimately the Fraternal Order of Police did not support removing qualified immunity.
The new law also made it easier to sue at the state level and bar qualified immunity as a defense for cops. The hope is that it will be easier to hold officers and their employers accountable in state court. If other states follow suit, people will likely bypass federal civil rights lawsuits in those places altogether.In addition to prohibiting the defense of qualified immunity, the law also says that if officers lose in state court, they may have to pay 5 percent of damages, up to $25,000, of their own money. The state can also revoke an officer's certifications, banishing them from any local policing job in the state, if a criminal or civil court finds them liable for using too much force. Cops who fail to intervene when colleagues use excessive force can also lose their badges.
The law was designed to make sure victims of police violence like McClain’s family have an easy path for payouts, Herod said, and make it easier to remove abusive cops from the profession by revoking their certification.
"We can’t bring a life back,” she said. “But if we’re going to do something in someone's name and someone’s legacy, it better be bold and make a real difference."Despite the wording of the Colorado law, experts say it is unlikely that many police officers will have to empty their bank accounts to pay for bad behavior. Insurance companies and taxpayers are more likely to be on the hook.
Local leaders—not an independent oversight agency—will decide whether an officer acted in good faith and therefore doesn’t have to pay damages, said Chief Cory Christensen, who heads the Steamboat Springs Police Department and is also president of the state’s Association of Chiefs of Police.
So cities and counties will continue to pick up the costs for abusive police behavior unless local officials rule that an officer was not acting, as the legislation says, under “reasonable belief that the action was lawful.”
Is qualified Immunity on its way out
originally posted by: Grimpachi
It's the ones who do things that should get them fired as a rule and not the exception that is the problem.
originally posted by: Grimpachi
I would like to think that most cops try their best to do the right thing, but it is getting harder as more comes to light.
originally posted by: bigfatfurrytexan
a reply to: Grimpachi
Every single officer at least at one point will behave in a way to get them fired. Its not an easy job, and questionable judgement is easy to find in retrospect of a stressful situation.