Michael Gregory was fatally shot on Jan. 2, 2020, by Ansonia police. He was shot after police reported that he attempted to lunge at officers with a knife. This was after the police responded to a report by Michael’s girlfriend that he was in her home in violation of a no-contact order issued due to a domestic violence charge. The officials said the police tried to stun Gregory with a taser, which didn’t work. Gregory had a knife with him prior to the shooting, but he had also locked himself in a room before the door was kicked open by an officer.
This was one of many cases where one can argue that the police force used was more than necessary, therefore constituting a case of police brutality. Defending oneself against cases of police brutality can prove difficult, as it requires one to fight in court against potentially skilled criminal defense lawyers. it is difficult to win these lawsuits because officers are usually protected by something called qualified immunity, which grants them some protection from claims of excessive force.
The limiting of qualified immunity
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed a reform with the aim of bolstering police accountability, calling it “long overdue.” The most contested provision of this reform is its section limiting governmental immunity for police officers. Under HB 6004, which is the contested provision, “no police officer, acting alone or in conspiracy with another, shall deprive any person or class of persons” of their rights enshrined in the Connecticut Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, which is the state’s equivalent of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Anyone who has had their rights violated by a police officer can then sue them for damages in civil court. This means what was mentioned previously regarding qualified immunity no longer applies.
This reform came very close to defeat. In Connecticut’s House of Representatives, an amendment to remove the section was tied – on the verge of being eliminated. Connecticut is now the second state that has limited legal immunity for law enforcement officers in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests.
Unfortunately, the new law contains loopholes that decrease its effectiveness. For instance, HB 6004 will grant police officers immunity if they “had an objectively good faith belief that [their] conduct did not violate the law.” Without clearly defining either “objectively” or “good faith belief,” this carve-out threatens to block far too many victims from filing claims and obtaining compensation and justice. Furthermore, HB 6004 will let victims who win be eligible to collect attorney’s fees, but only if the officer’s actions were “deliberate, willful, or committed with reckless indifference.” Again, these terms mean that it will only be in special and selective cases where the victim will successfully win a claim and receive due compensation. As a result, qualified immunity may still be a reality in most situations.