Published: June 1, 2021
By: Ryan Nelsen | LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—A bill that would limit the legal immunity for Louisiana police officers who use excessive force failed to pass through a Senate judiciary committee Tuesday.
Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, authored HB 609, which would give civil judges a list of factors to determine whether a law officer had used force reasonably.
The bill had passed the House 53-42, but was thwarted in the Senate Judiciary B Committee, 4-2. The bill had the support of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and was part of a broader package of changes in policing that had been recommended by a bipartisan task force.
Several police officers spoke Tuesday against the measure.
“I’m simply not going to work without qualified immunity,” said Michael Carter, the Shreveport Police Officers Association president. “I don’t make enough money to pay malpractice insurance. Doctors do.”
Qualified immunity was created to shield government officials from being held personally liable for violating the Constitution. The law dates back to the late 1960s and was meant to protect officials from lawsuits related to their job duties.
Jordan, an attorney, detailed how difficult it is to charge a police officer for unreasonable conduct. He told the committee that once a suit is filed against a police officer, the defense will automatically ask for qualified immunity. Then a judge will have to decide if the conduct is unreasonable or unconstitutional. For judges to disqualify the exemption, they have to find a case with matching facts.
To show how improbable this is, Jordan talked about a pregnant woman in Seattle who was tased three times and was forced to lie on her stomach during a traffic stop. The court declared the officers’ actions to be unconstitutional, but because there was never a case that showed that tasing a pregnant woman was a violation, the officers were exonerated.
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