This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine or tool that law enforcement officers will use to avoid responsibility for killing others—most recently Black men in America. See, qualified immunity says there has not been law that’s clearly established to prohibit the police officer’s behavior or response. If the law is not clearly established then they use that as a way to be immune from being responsible for their actions.
But here’s what we are doing to fight it: We try to find case laws that are clearly established or create case laws or advocate for laws to be in place that are clearly defined, so they can’t claim qualified immunity. Another way is to take the police officer to court and get a judge to make a ruling that establishes case law that says you cannot do this!
Because there is pending litigation, Lynch refused to make comments about the Andrew Brown case specifically, but here’s what we know from press conferences held by the district attorney and the complaint filed by Brown’s family: While deputies were serving an arrest warrant to Brown, the man fled the scene. He was shot in the back of the head with assault rifles and killed. So, his attorneys will try to prove that there was clearly established law that prohibits the police from shooting a person while fleeing officers.
Now, let’s get back and listen to Chance Lynch: How do we attack this qualified immunity? We try cases. We don’t settle just to settle. If it’s in the client’s best interest and the client authorizes us to do so, so be it.
I don’t want to be overly optimistic with verdicts that happened with George Floyd and Daunte Wright. I think that it puts the police on notice that they aren’t free to do whatever they want to do. They aren’t free to treat people however they want to treat them. But I’m not overly optimistic, and I’m going to tell you why. The reason I say that is because whereas we had three verdicts, 300 cases are yet to be resolved.
I represent a man now in Beaumont, Texas. Christopher Shaw was arrested for public intoxication. When he walked inside the Jefferson County Jail, his hands were behind his back, handcuffed. Four officers restrained him. The arresting officer became irritated with him, grabbed my client, flipped him over in the air, and caused him to land on his neck, breaking his neck and several parts. And he’s paralyzed from the chest down. It’s hard to believe. He’s only 43. He’s intoxicated, and the arresting officer is so irritated. If you ever see the video, it looks like he died. I mean, this man is never going to walk again. Forty three years old, and he needs help to feed himself.
So, I’m being honest. When you look at Dante, Ahmaud, and George, I think that’s a start in the right direction, but I can’t get over-excited when I’ve got a client who’s in bed and can’t get up and move because look at the quality of life you’ll have. My colleagues and I are fighting daily, but the cameras aren’t there all the time.
Doing the type of work we do, it changes something inside of you. It’s not something that you can watch, turn off and eat dinner. It lights the fire inside you and makes you committed to doing everything that you possibly can to ensure that it doesn’t happen to anybody else.
Born and raised in Halifax County, North Carolina, Lynch is now the managing attorney at his own law firm, Lynch Law in North Carolina, and has taken on cases like Andrew Brown Jr.