A police officer slammed a 5-foot-tall mother to the ground in front of her children, causing her to lose consciousness. A court threw out her case against the officer before it could go to a jury. An officer drove his SUV into the path of a fleeing motorcycle, killing the driver. The court tossed the case. Police officers fired at a family’s dog, but instead shot a 10-year-old boy lying on the ground with five other children. The court dismissed the case. Again and again, officers have escaped legal accountability for their brutal violations of the Constitution. And in Maine and across the country, those violations disproportionately affect Black, Latinx and indigenous people.
This impunity is made possible by a legal doctrine called “qualified immunity.” It sounds like something out of a musty law textbook, but it prevents victims of police brutality from obtaining justice under civil rights laws. Qualified immunity allows courts to throw out any case against an officer – even when the officer’s actions are unconstitutional – unless there is another court case finding that an officer violated the Constitution by committing the same abuses in the same circumstances. And it allows courts to do so without even deciding whether the officer’s actions were constitutional.