Stop Him from Setting Himself on Fire
In 2017, Gabriel Eduardo Olivas was acting strange and threatening to kill himself. His son called 911 for help. The police in Texas arrived and rendered those threats inoperative by setting Olivas on fire and killing him.
The 39-year-old victim’s family sued—noting that when the cops arrived on the scene, they found Olivas covered in gasoline and decided to respond by tasing him, setting him ablaze, resulting in his slow and agonizing death several days later. Still, the cops got off without consequences. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and two libertarian organizations want the Arlington Police officers responsible for the mentally ill man’s death to be held accountable in a court of law.
On Feb. 8, the U.S, Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the Olivas estate could not even sue Arlington Police Officers Ebony Jefferson and Jeremias Guadarrama because they are protected by the judicially-created doctrine of qualified immunity—a legal concept that does not exist in statutory law but was created by the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1960s in order to protect southern police officers and judges who victimized Civil Rights protesters. Since its creation, most courts across the country have endorsed the controversial judge-made law in order to protect government agents of various stripes from being subject to civil lawsuits.
“When Jefferson and Guadarrama found Olivas in a bedroom, they smelled gasoline and could see Olivas holding a gas can,” the filing from Tuesday seeking a full court rehearing notes. “Jefferson and Guadarrama knew from their training that tasers could ignite gasoline, but they drew and aimed their tasers anyway. Another officer on the scene, Caleb Elliott, warned them ‘[i]f we Tase him, he is going to light on fire.’ Despite this explicit warning, Jefferson and Guadarrama tased Olivas, setting him on fire and killing him, thereby causing the very injury they had been called to prevent.”
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