The US Supreme Court on Monday granted police officers’ requests in separate California and Oklahoma cases for legal protection under a doctrine called “qualified immunity” from lawsuits that accuse them of using excessive force.
The justices reversed a lower court decision allowing trial in a lawsuit against Officers Josh Girdner and Brandon Vick for the fatal shooting of a man wielding a hammer in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
They also reversed a lower court decision to deny a qualified immunity request from Union City, California police officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas in a lawsuit accusing him of using excessive force while handcuffing a suspect.
The brief rulings in favor of the police in the two cases were not signed, with no public dissent among the magistrates. They were issued in cases that were resolved without oral arguments.
The qualified immunity defense protects police and other government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, allowing lawsuits only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.
SIGN UP FOR THE MIDDAY SUN NEWSLETTER HERE
Monday’s decisions indicate that judges still think lower courts are denying qualified immunity too often in excessive force cases involving the police, having previously reprimanded appeals courts on that issue in recent years.
Reuters in 2020 published an investigation that revealed how qualified immunity, with continued refinements from the Supreme Court, has made it easier for police officers to kill or injure civilians with impunity.