USA Today: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court provided the most recent signal that it’s rethinking the doctrine of qualified immunity — a rule the Court created in 1982 to shield government workers from constitutional accountability.
The case, McCoy v. Alamu, was filed by a Texas prisoner named Prince McCoy. Four years ago, a prison guard pepper-sprayed McCoy for no reason. The officer was agitated with another prisoner, who had twice thrown water at him. But because this other prisoner was out of reach, the guard took it out on McCoy, an innocent — and asthmatic — inmate. Video taken after the incident shows McCoy pacing his cell, unable to breathe.
Next week, the House will vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
It would among other things: ban chokeholds, eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement, and mandate data collection on police encounters.
The text: https://t.co/lonS1ABQqW
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) February 24, 2021
McCoy sued, but until the Supreme Court intervened, he was denied justice. Courts at all levels had held that because there was not an earlier court case specifically stating that macing an innocent inmate is unlawful, the officer could not be held accountable for his actions.
These decisions are a product of this country’s perverse system of official accountability. Government workers who violate the constitution get to hide behind the doctrine of qualified immunity — in the news a lot because of the George Floyd killing — even if they act in bad faith or when their conduct is obviously wrong.
The doctrine is an automatic defense in a civil lawsuit, unless a plaintiff can show that there has been a case in the U.S. Supreme Court or in a relevant federal appeals court where the precise conduct at issue was held unconstitutional — in McCoy’s case, that it is unconstitutional to pepper-spray an inmate for nor reason, rather than tase or punch him.
If this sounds like putting form above substance, that’s because it is. Every reasonable human being, including a child, knows…read more…