SCOTUS Rules In Favor of Police in Two Cases of Qualified Immunity

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of police officers in two different cases involving qualified immunity, which protects police accused of misconduct.

There were no dissents.

To win a civil suit against a police officer, complainants must show that the officer violated “clearly established law,” most often by pointing to factually similar previous cases. Otherwise, officers are protected from liability.

Those in favor of criminal justice reform say the doctrine has essentially created a catch-22, where officers are shielded from liability even in cases where it appears they violated civil rights — yet because no identical previous case already exists, the officers are protected.

The two cases surrounded domestic disturbances when officers were accused of excessive force.

  • The first case concerned an officer in Union City, California, when a mother and two daughters barricaded themselves in a room away from the mother’s boyfriend, who was using a chainsaw inside the house to destroy things. When officers arrived, they found the suspect carrying a knife. One officer fired non-lethal bean bag rounds at the suspect causing the suspect to follow police orders to lie down. A second officer kneeled on the suspect’s back and held his arms up while the first officer retrieved the knife. The Supremes cited the suspect was armed and the officer kneeled for only eight seconds.
  • In the second case, police officers in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, responded to a call from a woman whose drunk ex-husband refused to leave her home. Officers confronted the suspect in the garage where he grabbed a hammer. When officers ordered the man to drop it, he moved toward them and raised the hammer higher. The two officers shot and killed him. A lower court had ruled that the officers had “recklessly created the situation that led to the fatal shooting.” The Supremes disagreed.

Complete story at NPR.