The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a crippling blow to law enforcement accountability with a decision that “perpetuates the belief that cops have a license to kill.”
According to The New York Times, on April 2 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Arizona police officer who shot a woman standing outside of her home in Tucson in 2010.
Here’s how the case of Kisela v. Hughes unfolded:
- The Police responded to reports of an erratic woman who was slashing a tree with a knife.
- When the police arrived, they saw the woman standing in the driveway of a home. That’s when a second woman, Amy Hughes, came out of the same house holding a kitchen knife.
- Hughes reportedly was holding the knife at her side and was acting calmly, but the officer shot her four times in her driveway after ordering her to drop the knife. Reports say it’s not clear whether Hughes heard the officer’s commands.
- It turns out, Hughes and the woman were roommates, and the woman did not feel threatened by Hughes coming out with a knife.
- Hughes survived being shot four times by police, then sued the officer who shot her for excessive force.
A federal appeals court allowed the case to move forward, but the Supreme Court reversed that ruling.
Jacqui Ford, a civil rights attorney in Oklahoma, calls the high court’s decision “offensive.”
“This equates to cops being licensed to kill at all times under all circumstances. We are not safe,” she says. “The continued lack of accountability by law enforcement officers perpetuates the real belief that cops have a license to kill. This is offensive to the ideals of government power and law enforcement’s duty to protect and serve.”
Although the court did not determine whether the officer violated Hughes’ civil rights, the court did say that there was no precedent to stop the officer from shooting Hughes in an effort to protect the other woman who was at the scene.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent for the high court, noting that there’s a disturbing trend and “unflinching willingness” to protect officers who use excessive force.
Jacqui Ford agrees.
“As long as law enforcement can cry that they were afraid for their life and nothing changes, then nothing changes. More cops get scared more often and more people die,” Ford says. “When carrying a badge comes with immunity, what incentive do police have to change their behavior?”
The officer is free from punishment under a doctrine known as qualified immunity, which protects the actions of officers “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
It’s designed to protect officers from frivolous lawsuits, but at what cost to citizens?
Ford believes law enforcement agencies should be going a different direction, requiring more training for officers, more mental health tests, more guidance on handling the mentally ill and people who don’t speak English.
“If instead, we would hold law enforcement agencies and officers, individually liable, then we could affect change by hitting them the only place it matters, in the pocket book,” Ford says. “We could be affecting change, but we are too busy being afraid!”
Jacqui Ford is dedicated to protecting individuals who have been victims of excessive force by a law enforcement officer. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for a consultation.