Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that is adhered to by the courts, but it is not based in the law. The Supreme Court itself created qualified immunity. It was not an act of Congress. For that reason alone, it should be ripped out by the roots. This should be implemented legislatively, not by judicial fiat. With that said, here is a truly horrifying story from Colorado:
Over the course of June 3 and 4, 2015, a SWAT team deployed a series of flash bang grenades, tear gas, 40 mm rounds, two Bearcat armored vehicles, and breaching rams against the home of Leo, Alfonsina, and John Lech. The Lechs had to demolish the house, which was worth $580,000.
The shoplifting suspect was armed with a handgun, and had broken into the Lech home.
Many more stories like this can be found, but this is the most egregious one I have seen. The government causes severe property damage and a half million dollars in damages, and the innocent homeowner gets nothing – even though they were victimized by the criminal the police were pursuing.
This is not a case of a frivolous lawsuit. The damage was done by government. If the government managed to destroy someone’s home while building a bridge or renovating a park, they would be liable for the damages. Why should law enforcement get special rights?
There is a policy case to be made for limited qualified immunity. (Which, again, should be an act of Congress, not the courts.) We do not want police to be subjected to frivolous lawsuits for split-second decisions where their lives or the lives of innocent civilians are in danger. We do not want to handicap the police’s ability to protect us by making them worried about whether they can be sued for every action they take.
But things like the Lech case proves that the doctrine has gone way too far. We do not have to hold the police personally liable to make city government pay for the damages caused by city employees. What has happened here is that the Supreme Court created a legal doctrine and violated American citizens’ due process rights. Citizens who have their property destroyed cannot seek relief in the courts.
Congress needs to reverse this injustice immediately.