In Delaware, a report has shown that 56 people have been shot by the police since 2005. Each of the incidents has had something in common: No officers have been charged with a crime — even in instances where their use of deadly force has been questioned by state prosecutors, members of the public and lawyers for the people shot. Attorneys and law enforcement officials said they cannot recall a case even before that year where a Delaware cop was arrested for shooting someone. That fact has led advocates for Delaware police to assert over the years that each shooting has been a “good shoot.”
The report also states that a police officer does not need to establish that the use of deadly force was actually required to protect the officer against death or serious physical injury. All the officer must show is that he believed that to be the case at the time that he used deadly force, whether his belief was reasonable or unreasonable. This may mean that the reason why Delaware police have not been arrested is due to this law that protects them.
Some individuals say that this law has given officers a sense of authority, that they are usually justified in using excessive force. Indeed, The report concluded the law “provides a great deal of deference’’ to police because it lets their “subjective belief’’ of imminent danger govern their decision to fire their guns — a provision that “immunizes them from criminal responsibility.” This authority may extend to incidents such as that in Dover, where a rally was held and protesters were handled roughly and swiftly arrested. This law is known as qualified immunity, which makes it difficult for victims of police brutality to win a lawsuit against officers and their criminal defense lawyers, given the protection that is awarded to these officers.
However, after June 10, which is the date when the protests started following the passing of George Floyd, changing the law has been high on the list of police reforms needed immediately. There are proposals that require body cameras for police forces statewide, as well as making disciplinary findings against officers available to defendants, rather than being confidential.
On the other side, leaders such as police union president Gregory Ciotti, who recently retired after 34 years, said the last thing officers want to do is shoot suspects. They know they will be relieved of their guns, put on administrative leave and undergo internal and external investigations, Ciotti said. Clotti noted that “It takes a huge emotional toll on the officers,’’ defending the current law. “It’s the worst possible situation.”
As the public waits for the decision as to whether the law protecting police officials is changed, victims of police brutality will in the meantime find it struggle to win a claim in court.