With the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others, Americans are searching for reforms to protect them from unaccountable police officers. Our civil rights laws are intended to empower Americans to use the courts to hold abusive government officials accountable for violating our rights. Unfortunately, in 1967, the Supreme Court created the doctrine of “Qualified Immunity”, which has largely neutered our ability to hold rogue cops accountable. The Court also held that police have no duty to protect the public. “Qualified Immunity” has turned into an expanding legal cancer that deprives Americans the legal protection of our laws. The editorial board for the New York Times noted on May 29, 2020, that this doctrine is “How the Supreme Court Lets Cops Get Away With Murder”. This doctrine closes the courthouse doors to the pleas for justice from Americans who have been wronged by rogue governmental actors and makes everyone less safe. U.S. Representative Justin Amash, a Libertarian and former Republican, is co-sponsor Ilhan Omar, a Minneapolis Democrat, of legislation to “End Qualified Immunity” and restore our American Civil Rights.
QUALIFIED IMMUNITY KILLS FAMILY PETS
Kinloch Court was one of the early precedents that made for open season for the police to kill family pets and avoid accountability due to the judicially created doctrine of qualified immunity
Kinloch Court- COLUMBIA — The 2010, fatal shooting of a dog during a Columbia Police SWAT team raid in February. SWAT officers raided the home of Jonathan Whitworth, the dog’s owner, eight days after securing the search warrant on suspicion that Whitworth was dealing marijuana, CPD Chief Burton said. The officers encountered a pit bull and a Welsh corgi when they burst through the door of Whitworth’s home at 1501 Kinloch Court in southwest Columbia. Police fatally shot the pit bull and wounded the corgi. Whitworth’s wife and child were also in the home when the police executed the raid, according to a report in the Columbia Tribune. Whitworth pleaded guilty on April 20, 2010 to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of drug paraphernalia and was fined $300.
QUALIFIED IMMUNITY KILLS OUR LEGAL RIGHTS
In my practice of civil rights law, I have witnessed firsthand the abuses permitted by the “Qualified Immunity” doctrine:
1. Two Black men were sitting in a car in the park on sunny day, when they are seized at gun-point, injured, told they are under arrest, handcuffed and held for an hour before they are released. No reason for the seizure was given (except for being Black in the park). The court found no violation of their rights and granted “Qualified Immunity” to the three officers, denying these two citizens their day in court; CFJ1 CFJ2 News1 NEWS ARTICLE
2. A landlord was sexually assaulting his tenants, demanding and (in some cases receiving) sex in lieu of rent, and offering $100,000 to buy 17 a year old girl for his new mistress. When a female tenant resisted the landlord’s sexual aggression, she was illegally evicted by the police, and the officers condoned the landlord’s sexual violence against his “harem”. The court found the officers are entitled to “Qualified Immunity” and that the landlord didn’t violate Fair Housing Laws, thereby denying these citizens their day in court; Opinion Piece on case
3. A citizen filed a complaint against police officers for assault. The police later retaliated for this complaint and arrested the citizen for possessing a concealed weapon, despite the fact that the citizen was a concealed carry permit holder, and seized his and his father’s firearms and holding them for over a year after the charges are dismissed. The court found the officers are entitled to “Qualified Immunity”, denying this citizen his day in court; Opinion piece on case
4. A citizen-journalist reported on police misconduct. The police created a “wanted poster” describing him as dangerous, target his employers for harassment, censor his posts on a police Facebook page and illegally arrest him. The court finds the citizen had no right to comment on this limited public forum or film the police in public and granted the officers “Qualified Immunity” denying this citizen his day in court. News1 News2
5. A Black Army veteran comes home to find the police surrounding his home. Police demand that he “consent” to their search of his home, where police claim a casual friend of his is concealing himself. The soldier refuses to be bullied by police and demands they obtain a warrant before entering his home. Police then obtain a warrant and find the friend concealed within his home. They also find a small amount of drugs within the home. The police then seize all 12 of his firearms (shotguns, rifles and pistols) and hold 11 of them for five years and give one to felon claiming that firearm was his shotgun. The former soldier’s son living a thousand miles away in North Carolina was also a convicted felon. Police in retaliation for the father denying them consent to search his home. Allege that a piece of mail with the son’s name on it across the room from his father’s 45 pistol caused the son to be illegally in possession of that firearm in Missouri from North Carolina. The son is arrested and spends more than a year in jail due to that false allegation by the police. The Court finds the police are entitled to qualified immunity for violating the rights of these citizens and denies them their day in court. News Article
QUALIFIED IMMUNITY KILLS ACCOUNTABILITY
“Qualified Immunity” undermines the rule of law and makes rogue police officers immune from accountability. Unaccountable police officers are empowered to be more reckless and dangerous with the citizenry that they are supposed to protect with the power entrusted to them. Respect for the rule of law and the safety of every American requires that the doctrine of “Qualified Immunity” be abolished by Congress, as proposed by Rep. Amash & Ilhan this week. Justice requires the equality of all before the law.
Civil rights lawyer and a former police officer