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Amash takes aim at qualified immunity with new bill

The doctrine protects law enforcement officers from being sued
Posted at 9:22 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 06:57:04-04

GRAND RAPIDS, MI. — In the wake of George Floyd’s death, calls for sweeping police reform are echoing across the United States.

“What happened to George Floyd was horrific and the response to it hasn't been surprising,” U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, L-Michigan said.

Amash spoke with FOX 17 on a video call to talk about his Ending Qualified Immunity Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D- Massachusetts.

He says it’s the first of many proposals needed to reform the criminal justice system.

“I've been concerned about criminal justice, and the ability for people to get the justice they deserve under the law," Amash said.

"I've been concerned about civil asset forfeiture, I've been concerned about our drug laws and qualified immunity is just another example of a justice system that is not working for the people and preventing people from getting the redress they deserve,” Amash added.

Qualified immunity is a Supreme Court doctrine, which often protects law enforcement officers from being sued, even in cases where they violate civil rights.

Amash’s bill aims to end that legal protection.

“There's no reason, we should have this type of immunity which started off much narrower many years ago and it's become much broader over the years," Amash explained.

"It basically prevents anyone from getting justice, if there hasn't been a similar case in their jurisdiction where the court already said yeah that was a constitutional violation,” Amash said.

In fact, the doctrine is at the center of a legal battle FOX 17 highlighted in our reporting back in February.

“The simple fact is the majority of this time this situation happens to anyone, they have no recourse,” James King told FOX 17.

The Grand Rapids native says he was assaulted by plain cloth officers in a case of mistaken identity in 2014.

The incident was caught on camera, now 6 years later, the case will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

King’s lawyer says they have not been able to get the officers in court because of qualified immunity.

“The officers claimed that yes, even if we violated Mr. King’s rights, we can’t be held accountable under this doctrine created in 1982 because there wasn’t an exact case that mirrored the factual situation with the case we had with James,” King’s Attorney Patrick Jaicomo said.

Amash’s bill has received wide support from congressional democrats, who on Monday offered their own plan for policing reform that bundled banning choke-holds by officers, ending no-knock warrants in drug cases, and more.

Amash told FOX 17 on Sunday he believes those issues, while important, should be tackled with individual legislation.