Attorney breaks down how qualified immunity affects law enforcement’s liability

WAFF 48's D'Quan Lee reporting
Published: Nov. 19, 2023 at 11:10 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - In the past four days, there have been three major developments, in three different stories involving people who had deadly encounters with local law enforcement.

Steve Perkins, Ray King, and Matthew Norwood are three people who lost their lives because of the actions of law enforcement.

If the officers and deputies involved in each situation were to be sued, attorney Mark McDaniel says they’d be protected under qualified immunity if a judge rules they were acting within the laws of the constitution.

“Certainly if there’s a lawsuit, the lawyers are going to go into the training manuals and everything and look through that with a fine tooth comb to see whether or not any rules, any regulations were violated and any kind of training manual they have,” he said. “Did they go by that training manual or not.”

He says qualified immunity is a judge-imposed law and varies depending on what state you’re in. For Alabama to adopt laws that would limit qualified immunity, it would have to go through our state legislators.

“If they violate a person’s Constitutional rights and they are not acting within the law -- in the constitution, the statute, or law, or ordinance, they lose the qualified immunity,” McDaniel said.

That’s exactly what happened in a recent ruling from a federal court of appeals.

In September, the court said two Huntsville Police Officers were not acting with qualified immunity during an encounter with a mechanic. The man claims he was wrongfully arrested, and the judges agreed, saying the man’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated in the encounter.

“They arrest him for not giving his driver’s license. You didn’t have a right to ask him for that, then you arrest him for interfering with government operations because he didn’t give you his driver’s license,” McDaniel said. “You had a right to ask his name and what he do, but you didn’t have a right to make him give you his drivers license. He wasn’t driving a car.”

As more facts of each situation come to light, only time will tell just how much qualified immunity will come into play.

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