Updated on Monday, October 5, 2020.
Legislators have introduced three bills on police immunity – House Bill No. 6287, 6288, and 6289. POAM strongly opposes these legislations. We have met and will continue to meet with sponsors and house & senate leadership.2020-HIB-6287
Information first on Friday, September 26, 2020, and also published and sourced from Gongwer.
Legislation to clarity that qualified immunity does not apply to unreasonable use of force was announced Thursday by members of the Detroit and Michigan Legislative Black Caucuses at a Thursday press conference.
The aim through the legislation, which has yet to be formally introduced, is to amend the state’s Governmental Tort Liability Act to remove immunity for law enforcement officers and bar immunity for governmental agencies in cases involving unreasonable use of force. Courts would be left to determine the reasonableness of force on a case by case basis.
And while House Democrats Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), and Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit) each extolled the need for the legislation – part of their Equal Justice for All plan – a representative from the Police Officers Association of Michigan said that courts already look at unreasonable force cases on a case-by-case basis.
The representative from POAM also said that he had not seen the bills but would oppose them if they fully prohibited qualified immunity.
During the morning press conference, however, caucus members said the bills would create an avenue to hold accountable bad actors in law enforcement.
“In keeping with our plan to bring justice, transparency, and accountability to Michigan’s criminal justice system, today we announce bills that will address a loophole that has perpetuated police brutality in Michigan,” Ms. Yancey said. “For decades, qualified immunity has insulated law enforcement from repercussions, even in instances where their actions violate a civilian’s constitutional rights or break the very laws they are sworn to uphold. This reform is long overdue.”
Mr. Carter, a former law enforcement officer, said it was his intent to make policing better. He also eschewed notions that the equal justice plan would seek to defund police departments, saying he wanted to “defend the police” while also defending the communities they are sworn to serve.
“First and foremost, our criminal justice system must provide equal justice for all of us regardless of our ZIP code, social, economic, gender or race,” Mr. Carter said. “But in our Black communities, those who promise to serve and protect are essentially given a free pass when they abuse their power. The law applies to police officers, too. When they break the law, even in a minor offense, they should be held accountable. When a life is lost as a result of their neglect or abuse, they must assume liability so justice can be brought to the victims and their families.”
Qualified immunity has recently stepped closer to the center of the spotlight amid calls to defund or reallocate areas of funding from law enforcement, as the practice of providing legal shields from lawsuits for police is viewed as a key hurdle to reform in some circles.
In some cases, that shield is necessary, a fact acknowledged by the caucuses in their subsequent news release. But it also prevents some officers from facing accountability in the case where death or serious injury occurred to civilians due to excessive or unreasonable force.
These encounters have been shown to happen disproportionately in Black and brown communities, caucus members said.
In a separate statement, Michigan Association for Justice President Donna MacKenzie praised efforts from House Democrats on curbing qualified immunity.
“Qualified immunity shields bad police officers from accountability and undermines the rights of victims of police misconduct to seek justice,” Ms. MacKenzie said. “No one should be above the law, not even police officers. Unfortunately, they are afforded a different standard of conduct and greater legal protections than would apply to anyone else who injures or violates the civil liberties of another person. It’s time we put an end to qualified immunity. Greater accountability will lead to a safer environment for everyone.”
POAM Legislative Director Ken Grabowski had a different perspective. While he hasn’t seen the legislation and is unaware of what it entails, Mr. Grabowski said his association would oppose it if it eliminated immunity in its entirety.
“People need to understand that police do not have unlimited liability,” Mr. Grabowski said. “If they’re found to be under today’s, the way the law is understood today, if you’re found to be working outside the scope of your employment, you’re still subject to these protections only if you’re doing your job the way you’re supposed to be doing your job. So, I think there’s a there’s a misconception and misrepresentation what they mean by immunity for law enforcement.”
As for case-by-case court analyses for use of force, Mr. Grabowski said it was his opinion that such analysis already takes place when judges weight whether or not to offer qualified immunity to police officers.
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