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SCOTUS Declines To Hear Qualified Immunity Challenge Involving Cleveland Police

Washington, DC – Less than a week after members of Congress voted to eliminate qualified immunity in the George Floyd Act and introduced the Eliminating Qualified Immunity Act in both chambers, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear yet another challenge to the doctrine which protects law enforcement officers from being sued for doing their jobs.

Shase Howse, 22, sued Cleveland Police Officers Brian Middaugh and Thomas Hodous for using excessive force against him in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, Reuters reported.

Howse alleged that the officers stopped, searched, and detained him for no reason at all while he was going to the grocery store on July 28, 2016, WOIO reported. h

The lawsuit claimed that police released Howse but later showed up at his home in the 700-block of East 102nd Street.

Howse has said Officers Middaugh and Hodous confronted him and then assaulted him on his front porch, WOIO reported.

Then they arrested him for assault and battery on a police officer, according to the lawsuit.

Howse’s lawsuit said the charges against him were eventually dropped, WOIO reported.

He accused the officers of filing a false police report against him that said they “believed that Shase Howse was preparing to flee and, was actually ‘scanning the area for a (sic) exit route’.”

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted Officers Middaugh and Hodous qualified immunity in 2020, Reuters reported.

The court said that no “clearly established” precedent showed the officers’ actions had violated the law so they couldn’t be sued.

While some analysts have said the U.S. Supreme Court has softened in its view on qualified immunity after it allowed inmates in two cases to sue prison guards for cruel and unusual punishment after they had been granted qualified immunity by lower courts, the justices refused to review another eight challenges to the doctrine in June of 2020, according to Reuters.

The decision not to revisit the legal doctrine was surprising to many who had hoped pressure from nationwide protests over the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police would force the Supreme Court justices to review those cases.

Activists were outraged and accused the nation’s highest court of judicial activism.

However, the matter is still not completely settled because new legislation has been introduced in Congress that would eliminate qualified immunity for police officers.

On March 3, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which eliminated qualified immunity for police among a host of other criminal justice reforms.

A day earlier, Democrats in both chambers of Congress reintroduced broader legislation to end qualified immunity called the Eliminating Qualified Immunity Act.

The proposed bills would abolish the law enforcement officers’ protections from liability for civil damages for actions taken while acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officers, as long as the officer didn’t violate a person’s rights, FOX News reported.

If an officer violates a person’s legally-established rights, they are not eligible to claim qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity does not offer any protection from criminal charges but was established by the U.S. Supreme Court to curb gratuitous litigation against police officers.

On a practical level, it allows law enforcement officers to make arrests and split-second decisions regarding use of force without fear of constantly having to defend themselves personally from damages, as long as their actions were legal at the time.

Even if officers are shielded under qualified immunity, people are still able to sue the officer’s law enforcement agency for damages.

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Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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