Supreme Court

Can Police Task Forces Play Jurisdiction Games To Avoid Liability for Misconduct?

An innocent man was beaten up by a local police detective and an FBI agent. No one wants to take responsibility.


The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear a case addressing the liability of police officers in task forces when they violate somebody's rights.

In 2014, James King was confronted and then assaulted by law enforcement officers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who had mistaken him for a fugitive. Even after realizing their mistake, Michigan officials attempted to prosecute King for resisting the police. He was acquitted, and in 2016 he sued to hold the two officers responsible.

The two officers were part of a multijurisdictional task force. Todd Allen was a detective with the Grand Rapids Police Department. Douglas Brownback was a special agent with the FBI. Because they were employed by two different jurisdictions, a complicated fight followed over who can be held liable and under which laws.

Here's how John Kramer of the Institute for Justice (which is representing King) describes the conflict in Brownback v. King:

This case is fundamentally about the obstacles that the government and courts have placed in the way of citizens trying to make law enforcement pay for intentional, outrageous abuses. In King's case, he brought two kinds of federal claims because he was uncertain of the officers' status as joint agents. First, King brought constitutional claims against the officers themselves. Second, he brought claims against the U.S. government under a statute called the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Bringing different kinds of claims is normal in American law. But now the U.S. Solicitor General is taking the position that because James brought claims under the FTCA, he cannot also bring constitutional claims against the officers. In other words, the government is asserting that simply bringing an FTCA claim is like stepping on a tripwire that destroys your constitutional claims.

Both the federal government and King asked the Supreme Court to take up the case. King and the Institute for Justice wanted the court to weigh in on the issue of whether an officer in a multi-jurisdictional task force was operating subject to state or federal law. The court denied King's petition Monday.

But the Court did agree to tackle the feds' request to determine whether that FTCA claim means that King can't use a previous court precedent (Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents) to sue the government for violating his constitutional rights.

It's a messy, complicated case that touches on the many ways police and the federal government manipulate laws and court precedents to try to shield themselves from liability. King was a completely innocent man who was attacked and then prosecuted by officials who did not want to acknowledge their mistake. And now they're doing everything they can to avoid having to make amends for what they did to King.

Reason previously covered this case back in February. Below, watch a video from the Institute for Justice explaining more:

NEXT: Brickbats: April 2020

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  1. Of course, if we are interested in justice, and not the law, he should be able to bring both “officers” in both jurisdictions.
    Maybe a real statesman can hijack the next bailout to insert a paragraph defining all members of all multi-jurisdictional task forces as liable under all jurisdictions. Or just outlawing multi-jurisdictional task forces.

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  2. If the US Constitution does not protect against this, then it does not protect against anything.

    This guy was NOT the wanted person and was 100% innocent. The agents for the state beat him up. Then in order to cover up their mistake, the guy was charged with resisting a violation of his constitutional rights. Then this guy has to pursue this legal action for years to get any kind of compensation for the government’s illegal and unconstitutional actions.

    1. In cases of mistaken identity coupled with assault and the imposition of resisting charges, all officers complicit should get the chair, preferably with no rights of appeal unless all immunity is eliminated.

      1. I agree, but unfortunately, it seems that only about 3% of americans are on our side unless it affects one of their favored groups.

  3. It seems to me if a citizen can be charged in both state and federal courts (dual sovereignty), then the corollary is that these officers should be able to be sued in both courts.

    1. same. But as well all know, the government works on the principle of laws apply for thee but not for me

      1. “…the government works on the principle of laws apply for thee but not for me”

        “…the U.S. Solicitor General is taking the position that because James brought claims under the FTCA, he cannot also bring constitutional claims against the officers.”

        Yeah, looks like The State, which is perfectly willing to over-charge We the People with regularity, does not tolerate it when reasonably appropriate charges are applied to itself.

        FFS why does the solicitor general not appreciate the full force of the law. Perhaps he resents not being offered a plea to put it behind Them. Maybe King should offer to accept the permanent forfeiture of 1 jack booted thug’s badge of the state’s choosing and accept a monetary claim of a measly 3 million. I’m sure both of those brave jack booted thugs will be fighting over who will get the honor of falling on their sword.

    2. A federal court should be able to hear all of the state law claims, as well as the federal claims, right? Though it isn’t at the Supreme Court for no reason at all, so something is more complicated than it appears.

      1. Will be interested in seeing how this one plays out after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gamble v US. That was double jeopardy/dual sovereignty case regarding illegal firearms case.

        “The government identifies no evidence suggesting that the framers understood the term ‘same offence’ to bear such a lawyerly sovereign-specific meaning,” he notes. To the contrary, he says, British common law, the Fifth Amendment’s history, contemporaneous legal commentary, and early court cases all indicate otherwise.


  4. I remember reading the original article and thinking, “if they are not acting on behalf of either jurisdiction then, they are vigilantes” as such they should have no kind of immunity qualified or otherwise.

  5. Looks like the latest casualty of the coronavirus is April Fool’s.
    Hahaha, just kidding. Gotcha!

  6. >>The court denied King’s petition Monday … But the Court did agree to tackle the feds’ request …

    s.o.p. for the Elite Class

    1. “But the Court did agree to tackle the feds’ request …”

      Well, one cannot expect Them to deny a request from a buddy. It appears justice is only legally blind.

      1. word. “hey can you guys get this jerk off our backs?”

  7. Can Police Task Forces Play Jurisdiction Games To Avoid Liability for Misconduct?

    If even a fraction of what I read is accurate, it would appear the police can do just about anything.

  8. Just look at his eyes. Even if this was a legitimate arrest, there’s no reason a suspect should look like that after effectuating the arrest.

    I have a feeling qualified immunity or some other bullshit reason will be cited and these brave public servants will face no consequences. How were they supposed to know that beating the shit out of an innocent man violated his constitutional rights?

    I also love that they still tried to push the resisting charge. These assholes have no shame…

  9. They mistook him for someone else. He told them they were wrong, and they showed him that might makes right. I’ll bet the cops still believe he was the fugitive, because to believe otherwise would be to admit to being wrong.

    1. If you flip through the outrageously long federal criminal code, I’m sure this poor son of a bitch was guilty of SOMETHING.

      1. Telling a cop that he’s wrong guarantees a beat down.

  10. The rare headline with a question that is answered “Yes”.

    Why yes, they can avoid responsibility, accountability and liability. The courts have invented a metric crap-ton of supra-legal rules with just such a purpose in mind. If a multi-jurisdictional task force can’t mete out a little street justice with impunity, what in the world do we have a court system for?

  11. A decent attorney can show that the police have no jurisdiction anywhere because there is no evidence that the Constitution and it’s laws apply to anyone. Too bad there are no decent attorneys.

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