Police Accountability

Police Accountability Hinges On Qualified Immunity

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The police accountability bill raised in the wake of George Floyd’s death could hinge on the question of whether police officers can be held personally liable in civil court for their misconduct on the job.

Qualified immunity as defined in the last section of a draft bill proposed earlier this month would allow people who have been wronged or injured by police to bring a civil lawsuit for punitive damages.

“Qualified immunity hasn’t existed the way it exists for all that long,” Sen. Gary Winfield said. 

Most of last week’s hearing on the bill hinged on the issue. The concept has evolved – not through legislation but through a series of court cases that established the concept of qualified immunity for police officers.

“We didn’t even have qualified immunity before 1967. It’s a 2001 case and a 2009 case combined that make it almost impossible to penetrate qualified immunity,” Winfield explained.

Winfield doesn’t believe changing qualified immunity it would stop people from going into law enforcement and that it's necessary to include.

“I think that the consequences portion of this bill are what make this bill, should we pass it, something that the people who made this bill happen can believe in.”  

At an unrelated event, Lamont said: “I think the bill is very strong without the qualified immunity. I think the bill doing what they do are able to hold police accountable. Being able to get a policeman off the beat and out of work and no longer able to work in the police force throughout the state.” 

Lamont isn’t the only one with concerns. 

“I think it will result in municipalities paying more in liability. But more importantly, I think police officers why would they put their assets at risk for doing their job? I think it would make it very difficult,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said. 

Last week Andrew Matthews president of the Connecticut State Police Union testified before the judiciary committee

"Many current officers will immediately retire, resign, or significantly reduce their activity and interaction with the public for fear of being sued,” Matthews said.

Police officers will be at the state capitol Thursday protesting against removing qualified immunity. The house is expected to vote on the bill Thursday and it's unclear at the moment whether it will still be part of the final package.

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