After nearly beating student to death, police demand legal immunity (2023)

terrible oneFallof police brutality could soon end up in the Supreme Court. James King was beaten and choked to death by police in broad daylight, then hit with three felony charges. He persevered, was acquitted, and sued the officers responsible, only to find himself trapped in a legal maze. Now the US Department of Justice is asking the Supreme Court to throw out his case entirely, which would thwart justice for James and other victims of excessive violence.

In July 2014, James was a 21-year-old college student walking to his internship in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when two men approached him. After peppering him with questions, the men pushed James into his car. Then one of the men took James's wallet out of his back pocket. James thought he was being mugged. In a panic, he tried to run away and yelled at onlookers to call the police. But he was quickly attacked, strangled and beaten into submission. James briefly lost consciousness.

"When I was drowned, I really feared for my life," James recalled. “It was a moment when everything went black. As far as I know, you get as close to being dead as you can get without being dead."

Several passersby were also convinced that James might have died that day. "You are going to kill that man", a personhecticthe emergency call center said. "They were out of control when they hit him," another onlooker said. “They hit him on the head for no reason; They were brutal."

It wasn't until police backup arrived that James learned that the two men who pulled him over and assaulted him were actually law enforcement officers: Grand Rapids Police Detective Todd Allen and Special Agent in Charge FBI, Douglas Brownback. Allen and Brownback, members of a joint task force, searched Aaron Davison, in plain clothes, who was charged with felony trespassing and had a warrant out for his arrest.

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Officers were looking for a white male in his early 20s, between 5'10" and 6'3", with glasses and a slim build, a ridiculously broad description that appears to have been borrowed from Dave Chappelle.police scanner. Allen and Brownback also had a photo of Davison that did not look like James.

After the two officers beat James, the police began closing ranks almost immediately. dash camVideoFootage after the beating shows an officer telling bystanders to delete any recordings or photos they took, saying it was "for the safety of the officers."

James was taken to the hospital where he was handcuffed to his hospital bed. But when the hospital released him, James was not allowed to come home and was thrown into the county jail. By now, it was obvious that James wasn't the suspect they were looking for.

In a just society, officials would be accused. Instead of this,Jaimehe faced three felonies, including assaulting an officer. Prosecutors offered James a plea deal that would allow him to avoid years in prison. But getting the deal would also have made it virtually impossible for James to sue the officers responsible.

He said no.

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His case went to court. But the wait was agony. "I spent those six months probably the most anxious and stressed I've ever had in my entire life," James recalled. And the legal costs forced his parents to use all their life savings to defend his son. Finally, James was confirmed: the jury acquitted him of all charges.

With the threat of criminal prosecution lifted, James was now in a position to attempt to hold Allen and Brownback accountable. In April 2016, James filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the officials violated his Fourth Amendment rights. “These officers did something illegal and then accused me of crimes and the system surrounded them and helped them get away with it,” he said. "There is zero responsibility."

Unfortunately, thanks to a series of procedural roadblocks and immunity doctrines, winning a lawsuit against a government agent is already very difficult. This problem is compounded when trying to sue members of ajoint working group, such as Allen and Brownback. Virtually unknown in its early days and for most of US history, some 1,000 joint task forces are now operational across the country. This confusion between state and federal jurisdiction forces "victims of constitutional violations to play a cruel game of racketeers."writtenthe Institute of Justice, which James now represents.

First, the courts had to decide whether the task force members should be considered state or federal agents. To cover his bases, James filedSection 1983, authorizing civil rights lawsuits against state and local officials, and a callLiveclaim, named for a 1971 Supreme Court decision that allows people to sue federal agents who violate a select number of constitutional rights.

Although the officers were in Michigan, both the District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals executed a Michigan arrest warrant for a Michigan resident accused of violating Michigan law.reinathat they were not acting "under the color of state law." As a result, James was unable to sue her under Section 1983, only throughLiveIJ has filed a lawsuit on behalf of JamesknappAsk the Supreme Court to overturn these decisions and end the task force's deceitful game.

Although both types of claims cover violations of the Fourth Amendment, unlike Section 1983,Liveit is an "implied" cause of action that has been increasingly "rejected" by the Supreme Court. A narrow majority last monthreinathat a rogue border patrol who shot and killed a Mexican teenager cannot be suedLivePerhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Section 1983 throughsuccess ratealmost four times higher thanLiveExpectations.

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Second, whether your claim proceeded under Section 1983 or beyondLive, James had to overcome "qualified immunity," a doctrine established by judges that allows government officials to evade responsibility. Officials are entitled to qualified immunity if plaintiffs cannot show that their rights have been violated and that those rights were "conclusively established" at the time. At this stage of the litigation, the courts must accept the plaintiff's version as true; Determining what really happened is set aside for the main issue (if the case goes that far).

Incredibly, the district court granted qualifying immunity to the officers who beat James, arguing that "the facts alleged in this case do not establish that the officers' conduct violated plaintiff's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure." . Fortunately, that decision was overturned on appeal.sixth circle, which criticized the actions of the officers.

"Any reasonable official would have known," the court concluded, "that the use of force (throwing plaintiff to the ground, holding him down, choking him and beating him into submission) was inappropriate in the circumstances," the court said.

"If citizens have to obey the law, then so must the government," said Anya Bidwell, a lawyer at the Institute of Justice. "Law enforcement officials cannot operate above the law and free from the Constitution."

Finally, thatFederal Tort Claims Act(FTCA) allows people to sue the United States government for personal injuries when they were caused "by the negligent or wrongful acts or omissions" of a federal employee. However, the FTCA does not cover any constitutional claims and applies only to torts where a private individual would be liable in the same circumstances.

As part of his initial lawsuit, James also filed with the FTCA alleging that Allen and Brownback committed six torts under Michigan law: assault, bodily harm, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and willful infliction of emotional distress. However, the district court dismissed those claims, ruling that James had improperly filed an FTCA claim. Furthermore, the court ruled that state law granted public officials qualified immunity anyway. James chose not to appeal this particular verdict.

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On the basis of this dismissal, the Ministry of Justice has made a requestCertificate requestPress the Supreme Court to expel the survivors of JamesLiveExpectations. The FTCA has a"ruler"prevents claimants from asserting other claims that have already been decided on the merits and relate to "the same object".

Although James' FTCA claims were dismissed on technical grounds and filed at the same time as hisLiveThe claims argued to the Justice Department that the sentence lock was still in place. If the Supreme Court issues a certificate and sides with law enforcement, it would completely end James' lawsuit and any chance of liability for what happened to him.

"I know this goes beyond the two police officers who attacked me," James said. "Reforming the system from the top down so that we hold every officer accountable for their actions would be a great start and a great way to close this case."


Do police officers still have qualified immunity? ›

The qualified immunity defense protects police and other government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, permitting lawsuits only when an individual's "clearly established" statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.

How do you end qualified immunity for police? ›

What Does 'Ending' Qualified Immunity Actually Mean? As a federal legal doctrine established by the Supreme Court, qualified immunity cannot be abolished by the states. Substantively changing the doctrine will require either Congress to act or the very same Court to revisit the issue and change its precedent.

What is qualified immunity for cops? ›

A Summary is a quick read to increase your knowledge of a topic. The doctrine of qualified immunity protects state and local officials, including law enforcement officers, from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right.

What is an example of qualified immunity? ›

Specifically, qualified immunity shields state and local government officials, such as police officers, teachers, and social workers from being sued by persons claiming that the officer violated their rights, except in cases where the official violated a “clearly established” natural, legal, or constitutional right.

What states do not have qualified immunity for police? ›

Both Colorado and New Mexico passed new legislation to ban the use of qualified immunity in state courts. New Mexico allows all public officials to be sued under state law. Colorado and New York make individual officers personally liable, mandating they pay for at least part of civil rights violations.

What does full immunity mean in law? ›

Generally, freedom from legal obligation to perform actions or to suffer penalties, as in "immunity from prosecution".

What happens if you end qualified immunity? ›

Finally, eliminating qualified immunity would stop the stream of court decisions denying plaintiffs relief and sending the message that officers can violate people's rights with impunity, and that their rights do not matter.

How is qualified immunity determined? ›

Law enforcement officers are entitled to qualified immunity when their actions do not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right. The objective reasonableness test determines the entitlement.

Is qualified immunity legal? ›

In 1967, the Supreme Court limited that right by announcing a legal doctrine called qualified immunity, ostensibly to protect government employees from frivolous lawsuits.

Who has immunity from the law? ›

Sovereign immunity in the United States bars suit against federal, state, and tribal governments, which cannot be sued without their consent. Governmental consent to be sued is expressed through legislation as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity.

Why is qualified immunity legal? ›

Pierson v. Ray. In Pierson v. Ray (1967), the Supreme Court first “justified qualified immunity as a means of protecting government defendants from financial burdens when acting in good faith in legally murky areas.

What is official immunity? ›

Official immunity is a common law doctrine that protects public officers from personal liability for civil damages sustained from wrongs alleged to have been committed while acting in furtherance of their official duties.

What are the three types of legal immunity? ›

What Is Immunity?
  • Immunity is an exemption from a legal requirement, prosecution, or penalty granted by government authorities or statute.
  • The main types of immunity are witness immunity, public officials immunity from liability, sovereign immunity, and diplomatic immunity.

Can legal immunity be revoked? ›

Waiving Immunity

In rare cases, a former witness can waive immunity after receiving it. This allows the prosecution to bring charges against them based on their testimony.

What does limited immunity mean? ›

Limited immunity protects the individual from consequences resulting from violations of NCAA legislation; however, it does not protect the individual from action(s) that could be taken by the individual's institution or any other entity.

Is qualified immunity unlawful? ›

This Article argues that the qualified immunity doctrine is unlawful and inconsistent with conventional principles of statutory interpretation. Members of the Supreme Court have offered three different justifications for imposing this unwritten defense on the text of Section 1983.

What does asking for immunity mean? ›

Prosecutors offer immunity when a witness can help them or law enforcement make a case. Once they grant it, certain rules come into play. Immunity from prosecution is an important tool for prosecutors. They can offer immunity to witnesses for all types of crimes, even serious ones like kidnapping and murder.

Can immunity be forced? ›

Witnesses compelled by subpoena to appear before a grand jury are entitled to receive immunity in exchange for their testimony. The grant of immunity impairs the witness's right to invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as a legal basis for refusing to testify. Per 18 U.S.C.

What are the two types of immunity? ›

There are two types of immunity: active and passive.

Who can end qualified immunity? ›

There are multiple pathways to end qualified immunity. The Supreme Court can revisit the doctrine and abolish or limit it. Congressional legislation can also abolish qualified immunity, as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act aimed to do before it stalled in the U.S. Senate.

What states are getting rid of qualified immunity? ›

Since Floyd was killed last May by then-Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, at least 25 states have taken up the issue and considered some form of qualified immunity reform, including Colorado, New Mexico, Connecticut and Massachusetts, which have passed legislation to end or restrict the defense, according to the ...

Who can assert qualified immunity? ›

Any federal, state or local public official accused of violating a right protected by the U.S. Constitution or a federal statute can raise the defense.

What is the difference between absolute and qualified immunity? ›

Absolute immunity is the right to be free from the consequences of a suit's results, and from the burden of defending oneself altogether. Qualified immunity only shields an administrative officer from liability if the officer's activities are: within the scope of his/her office; are in objective good faith, and.

How does the immunity clause work? ›

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

How many types of legal immunity are there? ›

In U.S. law there are two types of criminal immunity—transactional immunity and use immunity. A person granted transactional immunity may not be prosecuted for any crime about which that person testifies as a result of the immunity grant.

Can you plead the fifth if you have immunity? ›

However, even if a person asserts his or her right to refuse to testify, a prosecutor can offer a grant of immunity in exchange for that testimony. If a witness has been granted immunity from prosecution, he or she may no longer reasonably fear such prosecution and can be compelled to testify.

Can immunity be revoked if you lie? ›

When can Testimony be Used Against an “Immune” Witness? Witnesses who testify after a grant of immunity need to understand that they are not necessarily in the clear. Immunity agreements require the witness to swear that they are being truthful, and any lie from Norm would have breached the immunity contract.

What is an immunity letter? ›

An example of an informal immunity letter that the government may provide to an individual to obtain the individual's agreement to be interviewed or to testify before a grand jury or at a trial.

Is qualified immunity still in effect? ›

After months of negotiations, talks over a federal policing reform bill collapsed last week, with eliminating qualified immunity as one of the main sticking points.

Did NYPD lose qualified immunity? ›

The New York City Council passed a series of reforms for the New York Police Department on Thursday, including ending qualified immunity for officers, which protected them against civil lawsuits. The city is the first in the nation to end qualified immunity according to Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Where has qualified immunity been abolished? ›

In a groundbreaking reform based on model legislation by the Institute for Justice, New Mexico banned qualified immunity for state constitutional claims and squarely placed the burden to pay out claims on the government employer.

Who has absolute immunity? ›

Generally, only judges, prosecutors, legislators, and the highest executive officials of all governments are absolutely immune from liability when acting within their authority. Medical peer review participants may also receive absolute immunity. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.

What is losing qualified immunity? ›

Eliminating qualified immunity would mean that courts could clarify the scope of constitutional rights, which would give more guidance to police departments as they craft their policies and trainings.

Is absolute immunity a law? ›

In United States law, absolute immunity is a type of sovereign immunity for government officials that confers complete immunity from criminal prosecution and suits for damages, so long as officials are acting within the scope of their duties.

When did cops get qualified immunity? ›

Where does qualified immunity come from? The Supreme Court in 1967 limited the right to sue police officers that was provided by Congress during Reconstruction to help protect formerly enslaved Black people from rampant racial violence.

What is qualified immunity NYC? ›

A defense for government officials in civil cases

Qualified immunity is a Supreme Court invented doctrine that shields government officials from liability in civil cases. The defense is mainly used by police and correctional officers when faced with lawsuits for civil rights violations.

Can qualified immunity be waived? ›

Qualified immunity may be deemed waived if it is not raised in a timely manner or with sufficient particularity.

Why do we need qualified immunity? ›

Qualified immunity safeguards police officers from personal lawsuits, unless they engage in behavior that they reasonably should have known violated a citizen's rights. This protects officers from malicious lawsuits that would otherwise financially cripple them and hollow out departments.


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