Supreme Court Throws Out Cases Involving Excessive Force

( The Supreme Court once again signaled its support for the “qualified immunity” legal protection for law enforcement officers.

On Monday, the high court ruled in favor of police officers in two separate cases — one coming from Oklahoma and another from California.

In the Oklahoma case, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling of a lower court that allowed a trial to go forward against police officers Brandon Vick and Josh Girdner. That lawsuit was brought after the 2016 fatal shooting of a man who was wielding a hammer.

In the California case, the high court also overturned a decision made by a lower court that denied a request made by a police officer to use qualified immunity. In that lawsuit, police officer Daniel Rivas-Villegas was accused of using excessive force while he was putting handcuffs on a suspect in 2016.

The rulings for both of these cases were unsigned. There weren’t any public dissents, and the cases were decided without any oral arguments.

Qualified immunity is a legal measure that protects government officials and police officers from facing civil litigation in some circumstances. Lawsuits are only allowed when someone’s “clearly established” constitutional or statutory rights are violated.

These two cases — and a few other recent ones — signal that the current Supreme Court believes lower courts are denying people from claiming qualified immunity too frequently. The justices have chided some appeals courts for their decision to deny officers their rights to qualified immunity in cases of using excessive force.

Following these decisions on Monday, Chris Kemmitt took to Twitter to share his thoughts on the matter. The lawyer, who works for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote:

“These are not the actions of a court that is likely to end or seriously reform qualified immunity.”

An investigation conducted by Reuters in 2020 found that with the Supreme Court continually refining qualified immunity, police officers have been able to injure or kill civilians with impunity.

Democrats in Congress have been working to try to tighten the reins on qualified immunity. It’s all part of a bigger push for substantial police reform.

Democrats in the House passed a bill that would outright eliminated qualified immunity protection for law enforcement officials. However, that bill never truly got anywhere in the Senate, as Republicans and Democrats couldn’t come to an agreement on overall police reform.

In the Oklahoma case the Supreme Court ruled on, the state of the man who was killed, Dominic Rollice, sued the two officers and accused them of using excessive force. They were claiming violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The officers said they used force because they were afraid that Rollice, who again was wielding a hammer at the time they arrived on the scene, would charge them and throw the hammer.

In the California case, the officer used his foot to push a suspect, Ramon Cortesluna, down. He pressed his knee into the suspect’s back as another officer was placing handcuffs on him.