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NEWS & ANALYSIS

Supreme Court Hands Win to Cops, Tosses Two Qualified Immunity Cases


In a reversal of a lower court decision, the Supreme Court on Monday issued two unsigned opinions applying qualified immunity in two cases which plaintiffs claimed officers used excessive force.

The lower court decision originally allowed the officers to be sued for civil rights violations.

As reported by Fox News, there were no recorded dissents in the two cases, both of which involved officers responding to domestic disputes involving women and children.

In the two unsigned opinions, the court urged that police are entitled to be shielded from liability unless it is “clear to a reasonable officer” that their actions are unlawful. In both cases, the court ruled that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, which protects police from liability for civil rights violations.

In one of the cases, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that found an officer in California who placed his knee on a suspect could be sued. In another, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that two police officers in Oklahoma could be sued because their actions leading up to a deadly shooting escalated the possibility of violence.

As reported by USA Today:

In one of the lawsuits, two officers in Oklahoma were part of a group of police that responded to a 911 call from the ex-wife of Dominic Rollice. The 49-year-old was in the garage, his former wife told police, and was intoxicated. Police walked into the garage through a side entrance and confronted Rollice, who moved toward the back of the room. Police repeatedly demanded that Rollice drop the hammer, but he declined. 

Rollice continued to talk with the officers “relatively calmly,” according to a lower federal court’s account, but also appeared to pull the hammer behind his head at one point. In response, two of the officers fired their weapons multiple times. Rollice died of his wounds. The state medical examiner later found methamphetamine in his body.

Rollice’s estate sued the officers, asserting their conduct violated his civil rights. A district court ruled the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. 

Police repeatedly demanded that Rollice drop the hammer, but he declined. 

Rollice continued to talk with the officers “relatively calmly,” according to a lower federal court’s account, but also appeared to pull the hammer behind his head at one point. In response, two of the officers fired their weapons multiple times. Rollice died of his wounds. The state medical examiner later found methamphetamine in his body.

Rollice’s estate sued the officers, asserting their conduct violated his civil rights. A district court ruled the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. 

In the other lawsuit, police responded to a call near San Francisco five years ago in which a 12-year-old girl reported that her mother’s boyfriend had a chainsaw and was going to attack her and her family. When police arrived, they spotted a knife in Ramon Cortesluna’s pocket and shot him with bean-bag rounds when he lowered his hands in apparent confusion at the orders police were shouting at him