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U.S. Supreme Court sides with police in qualified immunity cases

Justices reversed rulings in two separate cases related to use-of-force lawsuits

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AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

By Suzie Ziegler

WASHINGTON — On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that two officers in separate cases should be granted qualified immunity, The Hill reported. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields government officials from liability.

The ruling reversed two federal appeals court decisions that had allowed excessive force lawsuits against the officers to proceed, according to the report. The two cases, one in California and one in Oklahoma, involved police responses to 911 calls.

In the California case, Officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas responded to a report of a man threatening his girlfriend and her children with a chainsaw. The officer confronted the suspect, placing his knee on the suspect’s back for eight seconds while another officer placed the suspect under arrest. An appeals court ruled that the officer wasn’t entitled to qualified immunity because “existing precedent put him on notice that his conduct constituted excessive force.” The Supreme Court overturned that decision, ruling that the precedent was too different for Rivas-Villegas to have received “fair notice” that his actions were excessive force, according to the report.

In the Oklahoma case, officers responded to a call from a woman who said her ex-husband was intoxicated and refused to leave her garage. Officers shot and killed the man after he threatened officers with a hammer and refused to drop it. An appeals court ruled that the officers had created the deadly situation by “cornering” the suspect, according to The Hill. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying that officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the court hadn’t noted “a single precedent finding a Fourth Amendment violation under similar circumstances,” the report says.

MORE: With 2 rulings, SCOTUS rebukes lower courts and doubles down on qualified immunity guidance