In a ruling Monday that was met with little fanfare and didn’t become a trending topic on social media, the “Supreme Court sided with police in two separate rulings on qualified immunity, a legal doctrine shielding officers from lawsuits that has been at the center of protests and debates in Congress and state legislatures across the country since the murder of George Floyd,” according to the Washington Post.
Basically, this means that the Supreme Court has made it much harder to hold police who use excessive force accountable for their actions.
“This represents a doubling-down by the Supreme Court on qualified immunity,” Barry Friedman, founding director of New York University School of Law’s Policing Project, told the Post.
The Post notes that several states have tried to end qualified immunity through legislation but have been thwarted at every turn by the unbeatable police unions, which, among other things, protect and serve bad cops.
From the Hill:
In a pair of unsigned summary rulings issued without noted dissent, the justices reversed two federal appeals courts that had permitted excessive force lawsuits to proceed against officers in separate cases arising from California and Oklahoma.
The justices ruled the officers should be granted qualified immunity, which shields government officials from liability unless it is proven they violated a “clearly established” right, a difficult legal hurdle.
The Hill notes that both cases involved police responses to 911 calls.
In California, police were called after a man wielding a chainsaw threatened to harm his girlfriend and two minor children. When the Union City police arrived they reportedly confronted the suspect and noticed that he had a knife in his pocket. “Officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas put his knee on the suspect’s back, near the pocket that contained the knife, for a period of eight seconds, as another officer placed the suspect under arrest,” the Hill reports.
The suspect, Ramon Cortesluna, sued officer Rivas-Villegas for excessive force. A federal district judge ruled for the officer, and Cortesluna appealed the decision, which was reversed by the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, finding that the officer wasn’t entitled “to qualified immunity because ‘existing precedent put him on notice that his conduct constituted excessive force,’” the Hill reports.
In Oklahoma, Tahlequah police were responding to a call from a woman who claimed her ex-husband was drunk and acting a fool. When police responded, the man reportedly grabbed a hammer, put it over his head while standing in the direction of the cops and was shot and killed by two officers.
The dead man’s estate “filed a lawsuit against the officers, alleging their use of deadly force violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court sided with law enforcement, but a Denver-based federal appeals court overturned the ruling, finding that the officers had recklessly created the deadly situation by ‘cornering’ the suspect in the garage,” the Hill reports.
“By shielding police officers from accountability, qualified immunity encourages more police violence against Black and Brown people,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said on Twitter after Monday’s ruling.