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A US federal judge has called on the Supreme Court to overturn the principle of “qualified immunity,” which stops law enforcement officers from being sued for their actions.
District Judge Carlton Reeves of Mississippi raised the issue while dismissing a lawsuit from Clarence Jamison of Neeses, South Carolina, against police officer Nick McClendon. Mr Jamison said that his black skin was a “motivating factor” in white Mr McClendon’s decision to pull him over and search his car.
Judge Reeves said he had to dismiss the case because of qualified immunity precedents, but said the principle had shielded officers who violate people’s constitutional rights.
“Jamison was pulled over and subjected to 110 minutes of an armed police officer badgering him, pressuring him, lying to him and then searching his car top to bottom for drugs,” he wrote. “Nothing was found. Jamison isn’t a drug courier. He’s a welder.
“Thankfully, Jamison left the stop with his life. Too many others have not.
“The constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law. Over the decades however judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing. The doctrine is called ‘qualified immunity.’ In real life it operates like absolute immunity.”
The African-American judge began his ruling with a recital of police harm done to black people, including the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and Sandra Bland.
He noted that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals had recently observed: “Although we recognise that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives.”
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