Police Abuse

A Michigan Police Task Force Is Playing Jurisdiction Games To Avoid Compensating an Innocent Man Cops Put in the Hospital

The Institute for Justice calls on the Supreme Court to put a stop to it.


A young Michigan man was mistaken for a wanted criminal and assaulted by a couple of plainclothes cops so badly that he needed emergency medical treatment.

That's just where the awfulness began for James King as he was walking in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2014. Six years later, he's still trying to hold the officers involved responsible for their behavior in a case that may be heading all the way to the Supreme Court.

On that fateful July day, a detective with the Grand Rapids Police Department and a special agent with the FBI approached King, mistaking him for a man wanted for breaking into the home of a former employer and stealing. According to King, they didn't identify themselves but asked him questions, then pinned him against their SUV and took his wallet. King says he thought he was being mugged and attempted to run. The two officers then attacked King and beat him unconscious.

Bystanders who watched this happen also didn't realize that King's attackers were police. Some called the police and others filmed. When more police arrived, they ordered bystanders to delete video of the beating (some complied).

Rather than acknowledge they mistook King for someone else, police and prosecutors instead charged him with assaulting the police officers and resisting arrest. They tried to get him to accept a plea deal but King refused, forcing a trial and risking years in prison. While he was completely acquitted by a jury in 2015, the fight bankrupted his family.

King filed a lawsuit in 2016, accusing the two officers, Todd Allen of the Grand Rapids Police Department and FBI Special Agent Douglas Brownback, of violating his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

After filing the lawsuit, King and his attorney hit a huge jurisdictional problem. Those two officers were part of a multi-agency police task force, and neither the state nor the federal government are willing to say that the officers were operating under their jurisdictions. Even though the investigation and the crime wasn't a federal crime or the result of a federal investigation, the officers nevertheless attempted to claim federal immunity in Michigan courts.

King was represented by attorney Patrick Jaicomo, who has joined the liberty advocates at the Institute for Justice. They are now petitioning the Supreme Court to stop the police and the Department of Justice from ping-ponging responsibility for how King was treated. Beyond that, King's lawyers are challenging the concept of "qualified immunity" that law enforcement agencies use to shield themselves from lawsuits. The Institute for Justice has put up a page explaining the case and the background behind the lawsuit. They note about the jurisdictional games being played here that:

Applying these protective standards to the officers, the trial court held that James had guessed the wrong claims to bring against the officers, but even if he had not, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they could not have known that stopping, searching, beating and arresting an innocent person violated the Constitution.

Thankfully, the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in every way but one, holding that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, but that they had acted under federal authority, not state authority … .

Now, the government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and provide additional protections for the officers—immunizing them from liability under a new interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act. At the same time, James has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the government's new arguments for immunity and end to the shell game that allows officers to violate the Constitution without consequence.

Over at the Washington Post, former Reason editor Radley Balko helps untangle the mess of federal and state legal precedents and notes that the proliferation of these task forces has led to a number of examples where jurisdictional confusion is used to avoid accountability and responsibility. In Missouri, marijuana task forces avoid state-level public records requests by claiming to be federal agencies but then claim to be state agencies whenever anybody attempts to use the federal Freedom of Information Act to get information.

Balko also takes note of the deliberately complex and obtuse civil asset forfeiture law variances between state laws and the Department of Justice's "Equitable Sharing Program." This program allows many state and municipal law enforcement agencies to bypass state laws that put restrictions on how much they can seize and keep from the people they arrest by partnering with the FBI and Department of Justice and using the federal seizure system, with its looser rules, instead. Some states have had to pass new laws forbidding their own police from bypassing state restrictions and going to the feds. Others have allowed it to continue.

It's clear that these "task forces" are sometimes being used to shield law enforcement agencies from culpability for misbehavior and from having to comply with public records laws. The Institute for Justice put together a video explaining the complicated details of King's case in Brownback v. King. Watch below:

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  1. I hope he takes Michigan and the Fed to the cleaners.

    1. I also hope he gets justice. Unfortunately, it will come from the pockets of us taxpayers. The criminals who actually assaulted him will end up paying nothing.

  2. No wonder cop suicide rates are 3 times the norm. The cognitive dissonance required to carry out these policies must be immense.

  3. Pretty easy: The State cop is acting under State authority at all times. If the State wants to loan their employee to the Feds that’s their business, they’re still responsible for him.

    Same deal with the Feds, they’re responsible for their agents.

    Alternatively, these “multi-agency task forces” are now illegal since they apparently aren’t operating under anyone’s authority.

  4. I hope he destroys them in court. Historical evidence doesn’t give me much hope though.

  5. neither the state nor the federal government are willing to say that the officers were operating under their jurisdictions.

    Qualified immunity is revoked for both parties.

    /Hon. Unicorn Abattoir.

  6. They could not have known that…..beating, (allow me to repeat, because it bears repeating)…beating! (again, just to make sure you got it) beating!…an innocent person violated the constitution.

  7. I believe that as long as they yell “Stop resisting!” while beating someone it automatically overrules the Constitution. I think it’s part of the 27th Amendment. So, you know, procedures were followed.

    1. That is why they travel in packs.
      One always yells out “Don’t Move!” The other yells out “Get on the ground!”
      No matter what you do you are resisting arrest.

      1. This^

        Many do not know how true this is.

        While in the military and TAD to security, they put us thought basic auxiliary security forces training. It was taught:

        1. Screaming commands-This is not so that an officer can be understood/heard. This is to audibly overwhelm and confuse a “suspect”.

        2. Even better when there’s more that one cop. Conflicting commands cause even more confusion and best case…you guessed it, the suspect is always resisting one of the officers.

        OT, but one of my favorites:
        Officer: Excise me sir, but have you had anything to drink tonight?

        Suspect: No officer, I have not been drinking.

        The suspect just lied to a cop. Notice that an officer never ask “have you been drinking alcohol tonight?” Rarely does anyone go more than a few hours without drinking something (water/soda/red drank).

  8. Institute for Justice is awesome.

  9. Shackford missed the only pertinent part of the case that could ever matter to the justice system.
    The heroes made it home safely after their shift.

    1. Were they thanked for their service?

  10. Obviously the guy deserved it and was lucky he wasn’t shot.
    Why? Because, as everyone who is not a criminal knows, cops are the good guys. And the good guys would never unnecessarily beat someone who didn’t deserve it.
    Therefore, ipso facto, he deserved it.
    And anyone who dares question our beloved overworked underpaid hero’s™ must be a liberal and a criminal!
    I support law enforcement!
    I ‘back the blue’!
    /bootlickers every time

  11. The circuit court lambasted the lower court’s actions. And justifiably so.

    The lower ( district) court tried to sell the notion that there were no Bivens claims available since it rejected the federal tort claim act, which slightly trumps the qyalifued immunity claim.

    Except it didn’t reject it, nor affect its bar, since it simply ruled on jurisdictional issues contra the merits. So there’s that.

    Plus the qualified immunity privileges and claims were trashed by the circuits; the 4A basically foreclosed, said they, on the stupidity of these cops abuses insofar as pretending their initial search/seizure (sans warrant) was anywhere close to 4A reasonable.

    This was a case of the feds and the state having an ego power-fuck affair on some dude who kinda, sorta looked like the dude they wanted desperately-so the hell with constitutional rights.

    Looks a 5 million$$$ lawsuit sooner or later. Or worse.

    1. Looks like…edit

  12. That’s all well and good, but what did the unions say?

  13. I think I know how Gorsuch will rule if SC gets ahold of this.

    1. Unfortunately, Kavanaugh would likely be an offsetting vote.

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  15. It’s time for ministers and counselors to fan out into the neighborhoods and tell the disaffected youth that they have to wait for the justice system to work…keep the National Guard on standby just in case…

    Wait, that guy the cops beat appears to be white.

    Hmmm, does not compute…that white guy must have done something to provoke the beating, and in any case, his invisible shield of privilege would have protected him, like the Invisible Girl’s invisible force field.

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  17. Easy fix: If neither the State of Michigan nor the Federal Government accept jurisdiction, the two LEOs are now PERSONALLY responsible for their actions since they were clearly acting outside of ANY jurisdiction. Sue them into the ground, destroy their lives, salt the earth.

  18. If neither the Feds nor the State were responsible for these cops, then they were acting as common criminals, and should be tried and punished as such. Ten years imprisonment plus open-ended civil liability sounds about right…

    1. Since they ended up kidnapping the innocent person, under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242, the cop and FBI agent could (and should) both be executed.

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