The odd tale of James King is told by Washington Post columnist Radley Balko. King, from Grand Rapids, Mi., was mistaken for a crime suspect by plainclothes members of a federal-state task force who beat him when he resisted arrest nearly six years ago. King was acquitted of criminal charges and has sued for the mistaken arrest. “The government’s use of joint task forces has created an accountability shell game,” says King’s attorney, Patrick Jaicomo of the Institute for Justice. “Federal officers police state law, state officers police federal law, and both can select the state or federal laws and immunities that best suit their purposes.”
Today there are hundreds of task forces around the U.S. As of 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration oversaw or participated in 271 anti-drug task forces. With little oversight, they have a record of overstepping and misdeeds, from excessive force to shootings, to mistaken raids, to straight up corruption, Balko says. In King’s case, he lost in federal district court but won a 2-1 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that denied immunity to the Grand Rapids officer involved. Now, the Justice Department is hoping that the Supreme Court will overturn the Sixth Circuit and deny King the opportunity to win damages for his injuries.