Washington — Supreme Court favored on Monday In two cases with the police in which the plaintiffs claimed that the officers used excessive force, the trial court reversed separate decisions Authorities allowed to prosecute for civil rights violations.
In two unsigned views, the court stressed that the police are entitled to be shielded from liability, unless it is “obvious to a proper officer” that their actions are unlawful. In both cases the court ruled that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, legal principle that protects the police from liability For violation of civil rights in many circumstances.
In one case, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that found an officer in California who had put his knee on a potential suspect could be prosecuted. In another, it overturned a lower court’s decision that two police officers in Oklahoma could be prosecuted because their actions before a fatal shooting raised the possibility of violence.
At a time when the country is still grappling with deadly police interactions and Bipartisan talks in Congress on increasing accountability There has been a waste of money, the Supreme Court has mostly postponed Lawsuits questioning authorities extended legal immunity.
Critics say qualified immunity lets police off the hook in almost every case where their actions are not specifically prohibited. Police organizations have long contended that officers need immunity in cases where they must defend themselves and that divergent decisions can lead to unexpected tragedy.
In any case there was no disagreement with any justice.
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In one trial, two officers in Oklahoma were part of a group of police that answered a 911 call from the ex-wife of Dominic Rollis. The 49-year-old was in the garage, his ex-wife told police, and she was drunk. Police walked into the garage through a side entrance and confronted Rollis, who went to the back of the room.
Body camera footage shows that after Rollis reached the back of the garage he held a hammer in one hand and held it over his head and held his other hand “in front of him as if to signal officers to stop or make a stop”. distance,” according to the court record. Police pulled out their weapons but soon an officer was heard saying it “would be less lethal” and changed from a handgun to a stun gun.
Lawyers for Rollis drew attention to the decision as a sign that other officers could have secured their weapons.
The police repeatedly asked Rollis to drop the hammer but he refused.
According to the lower federal court’s account, Rollis continued to speak “relatively calmly” with officers, but at one point also appeared to pull a hammer to the back of his head. In response, the two officers fired their weapons several times. Rollis died from his wounds. The state medical examiner later found methamphetamine in his body.
Rollis’s estate sued the authorities, saying his conduct violated his civil rights. A district court ruled that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.
But the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed that decision, ruling that courts could consider police conduct in the moments that lead to a fatal encounter if that conduct caused a fatality in the first place. created the need to use force. Since appeals courts across the country have dealt with that issue differently, Rollis’s lawyers called for a nationwide standard from the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Rollis told the court, “The officers’ conduct—aggressively advancing on an impaired person and leading him into a garage full of tools, immediately provoking the situation and raising him a hammer—was really reckless behavior.”
Lawyers for the officers protested that they tried to de-escalate the situation and repeatedly ordered Rollis to drop the hammer. The appeals court’s decision, he told the Supreme Court, leaves police in a “vulnerable position” in which they “face liability and are branded unconstitutional actors, even if they act reasonably in self-defense.”
“It’s better than putting the officers in that no-win situation,” the lawyers said.
In a second trial, police were sent to a home in Union City, near San Francisco, five years ago after a 911 call told a 12-year-old girl that her mother’s boyfriend had a chainsaw and was about to attack her. was and his family. When police arrived they saw a knife in Ramon Cortesluna’s pocket and they shot him with a beanbag round, when he apparently lowered his hands in the illusion that the police were yelling at him.
A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision for the officer, ruling that controlling precedent at the time allowed police to notice that a prone, non-protesting suspect’s bench. But kneeling was considered excessive force. Lawyers for the police briefly told the Supreme Court that the kneeling used on the Cortesluna is “standard field procedure”.
The officer appealed to the Supreme Court in May, stating that kneeling on a potential suspect was not only excessive, but that the tactic is “employed hundreds, perhaps even thousands of times every day by law enforcement officers across the country.” “
The trial is one of many challenging the police strategy of apprehending potential suspects. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court sent lower courts back a lawsuit against St. Louis police after they handcuffed a man and put his weight on his back inside a prison cell.