Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Qualified Immunity For Police Must Be Abolished

The recent examples of police killing Black men show conclusively that reform is needed in how the police do their work.  There are now pending proposals, some by Democrats and some by Republicans, in Congress.  See

At the federal level, the bills address excessive force, chokeholds, qualified immunity, prosecuing police officers for misconduct, the use of no-knock warrants as well as training and reporting requirements.  Additionally, proposals have been made to change state laws.  Events have shown that it is necessary to spell out specifically that certain actions such as kneeling on an individual’s neck, back or lungs is not allowed.  Violations of these prohibitions should get a police officer fired.

In my opinion, abolishing qualified immunity is essential. 

If you believe that the recent examples of police killing Black men shows (or only shows) that there are a few bad apples among the police force, then you should support legislation that restores the civil liberties of people who are subject to the authority of the police.  Only the bad apples among the police would be affected.

Basically without legislative change, you cannot successfully sue the police officer(s) for improper conduct that results in death or injury.  See the examples below in the June 24, 2020 Boston Globe editorial.

“In a case decided last year, Carli Taylor charged that Falmouth Police Officer Ryan Moore “used excessive force when, after stopping her for suspected drunk driving, he grabbed her arm, pulled her out of the car, put her on the ground, placed his knee on her back, and tased her.” But the case didn’t meet the state standard for “threats, intimidation or coercion.”

“Nor did the case of a man shot in the back by a Lawrence police officer (he later died at the hospital). . . .

 “Cases dismissed under just the state’s qualified immunity include one involving a state trooper who illegally strip-searched a woman by the side of the road while making suggestive comments. Or the case of a woman suffering from bipolar disorder who walked away from the hospital that had just admitted her and was subsequently tased by an Athol police officer for not holding out her hands to be handcuffed.”

In Massachusetts, in the state House of Representatives, House Bill 3277 would allow “[a]ny person whose exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the United States, or of rights secured by the constitution or laws of the commonwealth, has been interfered with” to bring a civil action for injunctive and other appropriate relief, including the award of compensatory monetary damages” against “a person or entity acting under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage of the commonwealth or its subdivisions.”

As to qualified immunity, the bill says: “qualified immunity shall not apply to claims for monetary damages except upon a finding that, at the time of the challenged conduct, no reasonable defendant could have had reason to believe that such conduct would violate the law.”

If you live in Massachusetts, please write to your state representative and state senator and ask that they support House Bill 3277 or comparable legislation.

If you live outside of Massachusetts, please review your state laws on qualified immunity.