One of the privileges of being a police officer is being able to plead ignorance of the law. It’s called “qualified immunity.” When a government official violates your rights, “I didn’t know that was wrong” is a legitimate argument.
Sometimes the plea of ignorance fails.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a Kansas officer who said he didn’t know it was wrong to treat all out of state drivers as drug couriers. The court pointed to a 1997 decision in which the same officer had been told so by the same court.
Officer Richard Jimerson claims he didn’t get the message in 1997 and thought all these years it was right to keep pulling people over and searching them for having out of state plates. He essentially admitted (through his lawyer) violating rights since that 1997 decision.
What should happen is the federal prosecutor should step in and throw this criminal in prison. It’s a civil rights violation. But in the Department of Justice “civil rights” is more about bathroom choice than kidnapping and robbery.
It’s not that we can’t prosecute real civil rights violations. Most of the time we don’t. It’s just not the way things are done in America.
A long time ago the Supreme Court decided that the primary way to deter police misconduct should be to let criminals go free.
Technically the victim can sue for money damages. That’s rare for anything less than a beating in front of witnesses, but it’s what’s happening in the present case.
Is an occasional civil rights suit a deterrent? Two things have to go wrong for an officer-turned-criminal to face personal liability.
First, he has to have the bad luck to profile an innocent man who can find a lawyer. This driver’s appellate counsel is from Colorado. The Colorado Bar may want to set a precedent that it’s wrong for Kansas to harass Colorado residents for voting for legal marijuana. (Lawyers smoke too.)
Second, he has to be abandoned by the government that usually protects officers who commit crimes against civilians. Not happening here. The Kansas Attorney General is defending the case. Governments routinely pay for their employees’ misconduct. The legislature of my state even passed a law to shield a friend of theirs from paying for an intentional civil rights violation.
If police illegally search 100 cars, find drugs or cash 10 times, and are sued once, the state comes out ahead. Asset forfeiture makes rights violations too profitable to give up. The officers in this case did exactly what their bosses wanted.
The government says there’s an automobile exception to the constitution. Will anybody stand up for drivers? My Congressman tried but only made a dent in the problem. I don’t think the empress by divine right or the reality TV star will do anything to help us.
Maybe President Johnson will. He only needs to beat the “538” blog projection by 269.5 electoral votes.
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