On Tuesday, in a police misconduct case, Mississippi federal judge Carlton Reeves reluctantly granted qualified immunity to the officer involved — but not before a blistering opinion dozens of pages long, slamming the legal status quo and demanding that the Supreme Court step in to stop giving police officers near-total immunity from lawsuits for misconduct on the job.
The case centered on Clarence Jamison, a Black man driving from Arizona to South Carolina in a Mercedes convertible who was stopped by a police officer despite doing nothing illegal or suspicious. The officer interrogated him for ten minutes, ran a police dog over his car for drugs, and "nearly two hours after it started ... left Jamison by the side of the road to put his car back together."
"Thankfully, Jamison left the stop with his life," wrote Reeves, who is himself Black. "Too many others have not. The Constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law — even at the hands of law enforcement. Over the decades, however, judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect law enforcement officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing."
Under the current standard of "qualified immunity," an officer cannot be sued for any action in the course of their duties that has not explicitly been ruled a violation of constitutional rights by a prior court — and in practice, that makes these lawsuits virtually impossible. The Supreme Court declined to take up a case re-examining the issue earlier this year.
"This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court," wrote Reeves, granting the immunity. "But let us not be fooled by legal jargon. Immunity is not exoneration. And the harm in this case to one man sheds light on the harm done to the nation by this manufactured doctrine. As the Fourth Circuit concluded, "This has to stop."
PHEW. Judge Carlton Reeves has some READING for everyone tonight, including #SCOTUS justices, who failed to take up… https://t.co/BNcQj4tptO— Chris Geidner (@Chris Geidner)1596574738.0
Reeves's opening, which takes four pages, is haunting and damning. https://t.co/rVysrEqLQI— Chris Geidner (@Chris Geidner)1596574989.0
This is the journey Reeves then takes the reader on in the nearly 70 pages that follow: https://t.co/yXYFCn34Jp— Chris Geidner (@Chris Geidner)1596575144.0