For decades, Qualified Immunity has been a federal doctrine that frequently shielded police officers from any repercussions in excessive force cases, often leaving victims who suffered at the hands of the police with no opportunity to seek justice through the courts. While the federal doctrine of Qualified Immunity remains in place, civil rights advocates recently scored a major victory locally when the New York City Council banned Qualified Immunity for NYPD officers accused of excessive force, becoming the first large city in the country to do so.
What this means is that victims of excessive force by police officers here in New York City now have the ability to file a lawsuit against the NYPD in a local court to hold the officers accountable. With Qualified Immunity no longer a defense for police officers, victims are now able to file a claim against an NYPD officer if he or she violates their state constitutional rights.
Please note that this ban on Qualified Immunity only applies to the NYPD. What that means is that corrections officers, government officials, school employees, and other public officials are still protected by Qualified Immunity under local law. The ban on Qualified Immunity applies to unreasonable searches and seizures, and excessive force claims fall under that umbrella. However, the ban does not cover violations by an NYPD officer of your other Constitutional rights such as the right to bear arms, the right to free speech, or equal protection.
Notably, federal law has yet to ban Qualified Immunity for police officers accused of excessive force, so victims here in New York City would still face daunting odds if they decide to file their claim in federal court. They now DO have the option, thanks to the ban, of filing an excessive force lawsuit in a city court.
The Qualified Immunity doctrine was originally enacted to enable law enforcement officers to make split-second decisions in situations where their life and/or the lives of others were on the line without having to second guess themselves in the heat of the moment. But in practice, this doctrine has evolved to make it virtually impossible for some victims of police brutality and misconduct to obtain any sort of justice or financial recovery for their trauma, injuries, and losses.
Until the Qualified Immunity doctrine was banned, NYPD officers could often not be sued for unlawful conduct, including the use of excessive force, unless the victim could prove the following elements:
- The evidence proves that the NYPD officer’s conduct violated the victim’s Constitutionally protected right
- The Constitutional right that the NYPD officer violated was “clearly established” law due to the fact that prior case law had already ruled that similar police actions were illegal
In practice, the “clearly established” standard was interpreted so narrowly by courts that victims were essentially required to prove that the facts in their case were virtually identical to the facts in a previous case, or else the NYPD would likely get away with conduct that was at times illegal and/or malicious.
As far too many New Yorkers know first-hand, the consequences of excessive force by a police officer can be devastating and even fatal for the victim. Here are some of the damages for which an excessive force victim may seek financial compensation:
- Medical costs
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity
- Humiliation and mental anguish
- Punitive damages which may be assessed for particularly egregious police misconduct
If you have questions about the recent ban on Qualified Immunity for NYPD officers accused of excessive force affects your police brutality case, call Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb, Green & Bagley, P.C. today for a free consultation with an NYC civil rights lawyer. We will not charge you any attorney fees unless you win your case.