Supreme Court Issues Ruling That Sides With Police in Qualified Immunity Cases

In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court has stated that it is siding with police officers over two separate excessive force cases, issuing the ruling that the officers in both of the cases were within their rights to be protected from lawsuits by “Qualified Immunity” legal protections.

Recently, “Qualified Immunity” has centered itself as a massive hot topic throughout debates around police reform. As stated by the Supreme Court, Qualified Immunity “shields officers from civil liability so long as their conduct ‘does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’”

It officially applies to such cases “when an official’s conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

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The two cases in question, Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna and City of Tahlequah, Oklahoma v. Rollice, were finalized this past Monday through per curiam decisions, issued by the court as a whole.

As seen in the first case, Rivas-Villegas v. Cortesluna, an operator for 911 answered a call from a 12-year-old girl who stated that her mother’s boyfriend, the respondent Cortesluna, was causing damage to their house with a chainsaw and that the girl, her mother, and the girls older sister were in a room in which they had barricaded themselves in out of fear that the man with the chainsaw was going to hurt them.

The petitioner, Rivas-Villegas, was one officer in a group of five who was sent to the scene in response to the call. Officers searched around the house and located a man that matched the description of the suspect. After getting confirmation from dispatch that the woman could not get out, police entered the house and confronted the suspect in question. The officers saw a knife in the pocket of the suspect and ordered him to put his hands up. Upon the ignoring of the order from the officers, police shot him twice with beanbag rounds. This forced the suspect to comply with orders and lay on the ground. Then Officer Rivas-Villages knelt down with his left leg on the suspect’s back, near the pocket where the knife was. Another officer took the knife from the suspect, and the suspect was then promptly handcuffed and taken away.

The judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Rivas-Villegas violated precedent which “put him on notice that his conduct constituted excessive force,” but this was overruled by the Supreme Court, stating that the precedent, LaLonde v. County of Riverside, was materially different and did not apply.

In the second case, City of Tahlequah v. Rollice, Three officers responded to a call from a woman whose ex-husband, the cases respondent, was intoxicated and refused to leave.

Officers went up to Rollice at the residence and talked with him. He seemed nervous and stated that he was worried about possibly going to jail, but officers gave him assurances that they just wanted to give him a ride when ROllice began fidgeting with his hands.  He then quickly grabbed a hammer from a nearby workbench and brandished it at the officers. In response, the officers ordered him to drop the weapon, but Rollice instead raised the hammer and moved towards the officers.

Two officers shot Rollice, resulting in his death.

A ruling came down against the officers from the Tenth Circuit Court Of Appeals, but it too was overturned by SCOTUS which ruled that the precedent cited by the lower court had nothing to do with the case and that the officers were entitled to their qualified immunity.


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