State bill would end police qualified immunity
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 01, 2020 | 1199 views | 0 0 comments | 94 94 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A state lawmaker who was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed by police officers during a peaceful protest last month is now hoping to end qualified immunity for cops in New York.

State Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn has introduced legislation in Albany to no longer allow police officers to be legally shielded from civil lawsuits for misconduct.

If passed, the bill would allow people who “suffer unjustly at the hands of law enforcement” to recover monetary damages in legal actions.

“Victims of police brutality have been unable to receive relief because at every turn, the courts have used the doctrine of qualified immunity to shield officers from liability,” Myrie said in a statement. “In the absence of federal action, it is important for New York to step up and show the public that when police officers violate an individual’s rights, we will hold them accountable for their misconduct.”

The bill puts no limit on the amount of damages that can be awarded to a victim. Myrie said there is no ceiling so courts can look at the facts of the case and award monetary or punitive damages accordingly.

Myrie’s legislation is intended to operate independently of federal law and the federal doctrine of qualified immunity, he said.

The Brooklyn lawmaker noted that both liberal and conservative legal experts have agreed that the doctrine is “antiquated and unfair.”

“Shoot first, ask questions later is no longer acceptable, which is why qualified immunity can no longer protect that approach to law enforcement,” he said. “This isn’t about taking away life-or-death discretion from our officers, it is about examining that discretion when it has been improperly used to violate an individual’s constitutional rights.”

Earlier this month, the State Senate passed a package of police reform bills, including the repeal of a provision to seal disciplinary records, the creation of the Office of Special Investigation under the attorney general’s office, the right to record, the STAT Act and the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act.

Other legislation affirms New Yorkers’ right to medical attention while in custody, creates a body-worn camera program for state police, and requires law enforcement officers to report within six hours when they discharge their weapon where a person could have been struck.

“If law enforcement has the legal protection to take someone’s life, victims should have the legal protection to get justice when their rights have been violated,” Myrie said.
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