Judge Denies Officers Immunity in Apartment Break-In

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Finding that the principle of qualified immunity has evolved to the point where it can protect police officers who intentionally flout constitutional rights, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein of Brooklyn declined to grant it to four police officers who broke into a man’s house without a warrant while responding to a child abuse report that turned out to be false, reports the New York Law Journal. Qualified immunity has recently come under attack as being too protective of police officers and standing at odds with the original intent of Section 1983 of the federal civil rights law, Weinstein said. “The law, it is suggested, must return to a state where some effective remedy is available for serious infringement of constitutional rights,” he explained.

Weinstein said he finds the U.S. Supreme Court’s expansion of the doctrine in police brutality cases “particularly troubling” and that it protects “all but the plainly incompetent.” When weighing whether or not an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, the judge said, courts should apply the standard established in a 2001 Supreme Court ruling to analyze first if a constitutional violation occurred, rather than “skipping” to whether a right has been clearly established. Weinstein made the ruling in an excessive force case brought by Larry Thompson, whose sister-in-law called 911 in 2014 and said her two-week-old niece was being abused at Thompson’s apartment. Thompson’s sister-in law suffers from mental illness and lived at the apartment with Thompson and his family. Four police officers were sent to the scene, but Thompson refused to open the door unless the officers produced a warrant. He alleges that an officer threw him to the ground and entered.

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