How Police In the U.S Can Violate Your Rights and Get Away With It



In 2010, officer Terence Garrison unleashed his dog on a homeless man named Christopher Maney who Garrison thought was engaging in criminal activity. The dog left Maney with a 16-inch cut on his head and bites that led to a brachial artery blood clot.


In 2015, when police barged into Amy Corbritt's house looking for a suspect, officer Michael Vickers mistakenly shot Amy Corbritt's 10-year-old son.


In 2016, the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit in South Carolina gave a civilian informant $100 to buy marijuana from Julian Betton. When the informant entered the door, the team, equipped with military-grade weapons, broke down Julian's door and shot him an estimated nine times.


In all these cases, the police were let off. Why? Because government officials (police) attain something called, "qualified immunity," a doctrine which shields government officials from being held liable if they are sued.


This is how it works: A plaintiff can sue a police officer for violating their constitutional rights under a federal statute called Section 1983. However, in order to demonstrate that a plaintiff's constitutional right has been violated, the Supreme Court requires that the plaintiff point to a previous case that has similar facts to the current case. This requirement is in order to judge whether a "clearly established law" has been explicitly violated. If it hasn't, or there is a speck of ambiguity, the officer will almost always be acquitted.


Take the case of Scott vs. Sylvester. One night in Florida, Mr. Scott was playing video games with his girlfriend when officer Sylvester (who did not identify himself as law enforcement) banged on Mr. Scott's door. Alarmed, Mr. Scott picked up his hand gun and walked to the door. When he opened the door, Officer Sylvester saw the gun (which had not even been raised) and shot Mr. Scott six times. Officer Sylvester was granted qualified immunity because "...Mr. Scott had no clearly established right not to be murdered in his home by a cop," according to the U.S Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.


Examples like this solidify the argument that qualified immunity is absurd and wrong. It undermines the safety and justice for everyone by making it extremely hard for brutalized citizens to bring malicious police officers to justice.