War on Cops Goes to Court

Betsy McCaughey, The American Spectator, October 11, 2017

The war on cops is moving from the streets to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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It started with a late night bash. District of Columbia police officers were called by neighbors at 1 a.m. to investigate a rowdy party at an unoccupied row house. The police found 21 partygoers, liquor, trash, and used condoms strewn about, the smell of marijuana, and women with cash stuffed in their thongs. The partygoers scattered, hiding in closets.

When questioned, some told police “Peaches had invited them.” Some gave other stories. The police phoned “Peaches,” who admitted not having the owner’s permission to use the house. The police then called the owner, who confirmed no one had permission. Two hours after being summoned, the police made the decision to arrest the partygoers for trespassing — the judgment call at issue in this case.

The charges were later dropped, because it wasn’t clear beyond a reasonable doubt the partygoers knew they were trespassing. But sixteen turned around and sued the police for false arrest and violating their constitutional rights.

They never claimed the police verbally or physically abused them. They sued simply for having been arrested, cuffed and hauled to the police station. Amazingly, the lower courts slapped the police with nearly $1 million in damages and legal fees—one of numerous recent lower court decisions making cops personally liable for decisions they made on duty.

The justices should put a stop to it. Fortunately, the Court has a long record of protecting the police from legal liability, provided there’s no evidence of malice or a deliberate violation of the Constitution.

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Twenty-six states and the federal Justice Department are weighing in with a strong warning that allowing the lower court ruling to stand would have “vast consequences” for law enforcement everywhere. On the other side, the American Civil Liberties Union is pushing to shrink or even eliminate the police’s legal immunity. The ACLU wants police to have no room for error.

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