U.S. Supreme Court Again Protects Police Charged With Excessive Force

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A general view of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, United States on June 25, 2021. REUTERS / Ken Cedeno

Oct. 18 (Reuters) – The United States Supreme Court on Monday granted requests by police officers in separate California and Oklahoma cases for legal protection under a doctrine called “qualified immunity” against prosecutions accusing them of using excessive force.

Judges overturned a lower court ruling allowing a trial in a lawsuit against officers Josh Girdner and Brandon Vick for the shooting death of a hammer-wielding man in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

They also overturned a lower court decision to dismiss a qualified immunity request from Union City, Calif., Police officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas in a lawsuit accusing him of having used excessive force while handcuffing a suspect.

The brief rulings in favor of the police in both cases were unsigned, without public dissent among the judges. They were issued in cases which were decided without oral argument.

The qualified immunity defense protects police and other government officials from civil prosecution in certain circumstances, allowing prosecution only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.

Monday’s rulings indicate judges still believe lower courts too frequently deny qualified immunity in excessive force cases involving police, having already reprimanded appellate courts on the issue in recent years.

In 2020, Reuters published an investigation that revealed how qualified immunity, along with continual improvements from the Supreme Court, made it easier for police officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.

Report by Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham


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