La. Lawmakers nearing compromise on ‘qualified immunity’ change

WAFB file photo of Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters on US 61 (Airline Highway) in...
WAFB file photo of Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters on US 61 (Airline Highway) in Baton Rouge, La.(WAFB)
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 5:44 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Lawmakers are nearing a compromise that would limit ‘qualified immunity’ for law enforcement, a policy that makes it nearly impossible to sue a policeman who’s hurt someone, even if that officer broke the law.

The state’s powerful sheriff’s association said Tuesday it was on board with the change that would make it easier to sue for misconduct damages. Under the deal, a person could win a suit without finding a nearly identical incident where another court ruled against another officer.

“No two cases are exactly alike,” Baton Rouge Democrat Rep. Edmond Jordan, who wrote a bill to do away with the policy altogether, said last year. “When you bring it to that type of specificity, it becomes almost an insurmountable defense.”

Some lawsuits are dismissed under the qualified immunity doctrine before a judge can hear evidence.

“Even if a person can show they were an innocent bystander who was shot multiple times by a police officer executing a no-knock warrant on the wrong house, if there’s not already been a past judicial opinion about that specific kind of situation, then the case might be dismissed,” MacArthur Justice Center Director Jim Craig said last year.

Police would still be protected from civil lawsuits when a court decides their behavior is reasonable, under the deal.

“Sheriff’s deputies would find themselves under pressure from the sheriffs to behave in a manner that doesn’t cost the jurisdiction money,” LSU Law professor Ray Diamond said Tuesday. “We could provide a financial disincentive, both to officers and to the departments they work for, by emplacing a bar to qualified immunity.”

The state’s fraternal order of police expressed concern about the proposal, which has not been drafted as legislation yet.

Lawmakers will debate the details when the session begins on April 12.

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