Qualified Immunity

Over 24 Cops Raided the Wrong Address and Wrecked an Elderly Man's Home. They All Got Qualified Immunity.

There will be no justice for Onree Norris.

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Onree Norris was 78 years old when a swarm of police officers raided his Georgia home without warning in 2018, bombarding the place with two flash-bang grenades, careening through the door with a battering ram, and placing Norris under arrest.

He was later released when cops with the Henry County Sheriff's Office Special Response Team and the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force realized their suspect actually lived next door.

"Something went off like a bomb in my house," Norris told local news in September of 2020.

The botched raid set off a legal odyssey that reached its denouement last month when a federal court confirmed that the cop at the center of the operation was entitled to qualified immunity. Norris will thus be barred from suing for the violation of his civil rights.

The legal doctrine of qualified immunity prohibits people from bringing civil suits against government officials if there is no court precedent explicitly deeming the misconduct in question unconstitutional. Qualified immunity has protected a cop who killed a man who had been sleeping in his car, four cops who assaulted a man they'd pulled over for broken tail lights, and two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant, all because the exact ways in which those situations played out hadn't been addressed in prior court rulings.

When his case was first heard by the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, Norris conceded that such a precedent doesn't exist for the bulk of the officers involved. But he pointed to two cases—Maryland v. Garrison and Hartsfield v. Lemacks—that should have informed Captain David Cody, who spearheaded the raid, that it was unconstitutional to barge into someone's home without a warrant, destroy their property, and arrest an innocent person.

The lower court awarded Cody qualified immunity. Norris appealed.

"We must determine whether Capt. Cody's actions during the raid—not commanding his team to stop heading towards Norris's home and then following his team into Norris's home—violated the law clearly established" in prior court precedents, wrote a unanimous panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. They concluded that Cody's failures did not violate clearly established law.

The Court's ruling is a crash course in the lopsided logic behind qualified immunity, which requires that the facts of any given case be reflected almost identically in a previous case should a victim of government abuse want the privilege of bringing their suit before a jury.

Norris furnished two precedents for consideration, both of which pertained to police executing searches on the wrong residences. But in the 11th Circuit's reading, the facts strayed too far.

"Simply put, this case was not a situation envisioned by Garrison where Capt. Cody failed to engage 'in reasonable efforts to avoid error' or a situation like in Hartsfield where the officer did 'nothing' to avoid the mistake," wrote the panel. "Rather, Capt. Cody and the other officers involved carefully planned a high-risk raid at what was thought to be a dangerous target house but made a mistake when faced with an unexpected circumstance—the residence not matching the description given."

That "carefully planned" raid went awry when officers went to the correct address—which housed a suspected drug dealer, courtesy of a confidential informant—and it looked a bit different than expected. "When they arrived at the residence, it did not match the description from the Task Force briefing because the house had been abandoned and looked like a 'storage out-building' rather than a habitable residence, as the briefing explained," the panel noted. "This mismatch led members of the Response Team to conclude that the house next door, Norris's house, must be the actual target residence."

Norris's house, which was yellow, also did not match the target residence, which was described in briefing materials as "off-white." That didn't deter the officers. Agent Jermaine Hicks of the Flint Circuit Drug Task Force testified that while he told officers the search warrant had detailed information on the house, "he did not recall anyone reviewing [it] at the briefing nor any Response Team agent reviewing the warrant before the briefing." For his part, Cody said he checked for a signature, verified it permitted no-knock entry, and confirmed the address, but declined to read it "all the way through."

Thanks to Cody's apparently unique style of carelessness, Norris will be unable to bring his case before a jury to ask for damages. Surmounting qualified immunity wouldn't have given him a settlement; it would merely give him the right to argue his case in civil court.

Perhaps most outrageously, Norris provided the court with another precedent—Treat v. Lowe—that ruled similar conduct unconstitutional. But the 11th Circuit denied that the 2016 case had any bearing because the Court opted to leave it "unpublished." In other words, Cody could not have known his behavior was wrong because the decision was not contained in a physical book of case law—even though it is publicly available online. Somewhat maddeningly, the 11th Circuit also declined to publish their opinion in Norris.

Qualified immunity has been a lightning rod in the political sphere over the last year as Congress continues to hash out how it should be reformed, if at all. The 11th Circuit provides a good case that it should be. In describing the nature of their approach to qualified immunity, the judges note that it only protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." They drove home their point by citing Corbitt v. Vickers, a decision that gave qualified immunity to a cop who shot a 10-year-old boy while aiming at the family's non-threatening dog.

One might argue that is plainly incompetent. The 11th Circuit apparently has a much lower bar.

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  1. If only real cops were as competent as the Keystone Cops.

    Wrong address are not only horrible they are common.

    “Flint family says state police raided wrong house, traumatizing young children”
    https://nbc25news.com/news/local/flint-family-says-state-police-raided-wrong-house-traumatizing-young-children

    A.C.A.B.
    All
    Cops
    Are
    Bureaucrats

    “A bureaucrat is the most despicable of men. I have yet to meet a bureaucrat who was not petty, dull, almost witless, crafty or stupid, an oppressor or a thief . Who can trust such creatures?” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

    1. I learned from my Mexican sister-in-law to spell it “burrocrata”, or even “burrrrrocrata”.

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  2. Unfortunately we can expect more of this in the years to come if democrats stay in power.

    1. Democrats want to abolish QI, It is the Rs who want to keep giving cops immunity.

      1. Democrats want to abolish QI

        The Democrats who control both houses of Congress and the Presidency? Then why isn’t it done?

        1. Because policing is a state power.

          1. But QI was invented by the federal court as protection against civil causes of action created by a federal statute.

        2. Because the Rs are blocking the bills.

          1. They can ram through trillions in spending, plan to pack the Supreme Court, yet can’t handle something popular like taming QI? It must be really traumatizing for you and your ilk to have such spineless cowards in power.

            1. The spending was done in a way to bypass the filibuster that can be used only in narrow circumstances. And there is no plan to pack SCOTUS, and thus no law like that has been passed. The raw truth that if you don’t like QI, go blame the Rs for blocking legislation that would eliminate QI.

              1. No plan to pack SCOTUS? You aren’t hip to your own party’s bills! Why should anyone believe the rest of your spiel?

                1. You can check the Congressional Record and verify for yourself that no court packing plan has passed the Senate.

                  1. When I check the Congressional Record I will verify that no bill dealing with QI in any way, shape or form has made it to the floor of either chamber for a vote. Take your “Democrats want to abolish QI” and shove it. They want police union cash, that’s what they want.

                    1. You need to do better research. This took me less then a minute to find.

                      https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1280

                    2. Hey Molly

                      The real reason we won’t see QI die is because the Democrats strongly approve of the activities of Antifa, BLM (“Burning Looting Marxists”) and other leftist approved violent groups.

                      Though it’s nice the Dems virtue signal with bills that are engineered to be dead on arrival. At least no mean tweets. Am I right, dumbfuck? 😀

                    3. If you don’t understand the causation: BLM, Antifa and others do their worst to spike demands for MORE police funding.

                    4. HAHA man you are a tool for a party? A political party? You are the lowest form of creature and just got embarrassed!

              2. I certainly don’t remember the GOP making the calls to defund police…

              3. Since the most egregious police problems are in blue cities, why don’t the democrat controlled cities and counties change their policing policies to deal with these abuses? Are their arms broken?

                Why does Congress, which has no constitutional authority to regulate intrastate law enforcement, have to deal with this at all?

                1. Yep, no responses. Just like I figured.

            2. They can ram through trillions in spending, plan to pack the Supreme Court, yet can’t handle something popular like taming QI? It must be really traumatizing for you and your ilk to have such spineless cowards in power.

              Yes they can because spending is a budgetary issue and so the reconciliation rules apply. Under reconciliation, the budget bills aren’t subject to filibuster. QI can’t be fixed using reconciliation so it is subject to the filibuster — and the GOP is firmly in the pro-QI camp (you will not find 10 GOP votes in the senate to abolish QI)

              Maybe you should take a few minutes and learn how shit actually works before popping off about things you obviously know nothing about.

              1. I know more about most things than politicians. Do you? Not if you vote for any of them.

    2. Um, no. Republicans are the ones courting the LEO vote by opposing police reform.

      1. Neither party supports real police reform.

        1. For a party that does not support reform, passing a police reform bill is an odd way of not supporting reform.

          https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1280

          1. “For a party that does not support reform, passing a police reform bill is an odd way of not supporting reform unless of course one knows that the bill will not stand of chance of passing ultimately than it is just a case of virtue signaling.

            Why did the dims block a black senator’s police reform bill which had a chance of actually passing? Because of a B, R or a T? Hmmmmm

            That’s right, because you are a liar.

  3. “Something went off like a bomb in my house,”

    That would be a bomb. A very small one, but a bomb.

  4. I just read an article (can’t remember where, AP, somewhere ‘generic’) that pointed out that there were so many successful lawsuits against municipalities, that normal city services (and by extension, taxpayers) were bearing the brunt of bad policing.

    So if all of these lawsuits (which the article claimed last year was nearly a billion dollars– although I question that…) are successful, why are people suing the individual cops knowing that Qualified Immunity makes that a very steep uphill climb?

    Who’s suing the cities, who’s successful, who’s not, and why?

    1. You can only sue the city if the cities polices or practices lead to the unconstitutional action. If a cop violates their own procedures then you can only go after the cop as an individual, the city gets off the hook. It is a very high bar to prove that the city’s policies are practices bad enough for liability.

      1. While your message is perfectly logical, I find a hard time believing that’s true. Some of the biggest civil rights settlements against cities and states were based on awful actions of individual state agents, and there was simply no way there was a ‘standing policy’ that said this or that person was to be abused in the manner they were. I believe (to the best of my knowledge) that the state agency can be found negligent by extension if agents which represent them act in bad faith– or just immorally or with grave disregard for the public they serve.

        1. e.g. $27 million to George Floyd’s family?

          1. That was a wrongful death suit, not constitutional violation.

            1. No, based on this article, that was a Section 1983 lawsuit against the individual officers and the City as well. “He said the suit was not only against the officers involved in the fatal May 25 encounter with Floyd but the policies and procedures of the Minneapolis Police Department.”

              This is the classic phrasing for a Section 1983 lawsuit, which depends on a violation of constitutional (or other federal) rights by someone acting under the color of state law. “The lawsuit states that Floyd was deprived, “under color of state law,” of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to U.S. Constitution.”

              https://abcnews.go.com/US/george-floyds-family-files-civil-suit-minneapolis-police/story?id=71794563

              The City settled it because they are obligated to indemnify their officers for the resulting damages, which includes the obligation to pay for the defense (but this gives them control of the case). (Plus, most likely, the really negative publicity that would only intensify as the case dragged on.)

    2. QI applies to individual officers, not departments, cities, counties or states.

      1. Correct,the dumbass cops’ leader should be fired not sued.

        1. What would that solve? The problem is using these kind of tactics for routine jobs. Thing is, cops have no moral sense. They get their right and wrong from department policy. If policy says it’s ok, then it’s ok. They have no conscience to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong.

          1. “What would that solve? ”

            Fired people have less opportunity to repeat their mistakes.

            “They have no conscience to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong.”

            Guess we’ll have to settle for threat of termination and loss of benefits to tell them until a conscience can be instilled in Them.

          2. This is why a fairer system might see individual cops required to buy their own liability insurance. That way at least someone has the power to keep abusive cops off the force– once their insurance gets used a few times the prices will rise & eventually the cop in question will be finding a new job.

            1. I’ve been saying that here for years. And no one ever responds when I do say it.

      2. I’m not sure who or what you’re responding to.

        Let me try again:

        why are people suing the individual cops knowing that Qualified Immunity makes that a very steep uphill climb?

        Given the rest of my message, and the article I alluded to, people are successfully going around QI, and suing the municipalities to the tune of hundreds of millions annually. So given that QI is a steep, uphill climb, why aren’t more people suing cities, and if they are, which lawsuits are successful and why, and which ones aren’t and why?

        1. I only know QI exists because I’m a nerd who reads Reason. It’s not a topic of mainstream news. At least when I talk about it to people who haven’t heard of Reason they think I’m full of shit. “Cops can’t be sued unless what? No way dude. You’re making this up”
          Lawyers aren’t known for being honest folk. Perhaps they’re happy to get paid to start a QI lawsuit they know will fail? I dunno.
          Suing cities and such isn’t a QI workaround. It’s just suing. The rest of your questions must be rhetorical because there is no answer.

          1. I’m not asking for a QI “workaround”, I’m asking (and have repeatedly asked) why someone wouldn’t sue the city, as opposed to directly suing the guy three payments behind on his jet ski– when the former is… arguably more likely to succeed, and the latter very unlikely to succeed and even IF successful, will get you $1,700 or whatever’s left after the child support payments to the two baby mamas.

            1. You ask and I have linked to an article that answers the question.

              1. So I found myself cutting and pasting, and making remarks point by point, but it got too long, too complex. So I tried to distill it into something more digestible:

                Therefore, even when an officer is ultimately immune from liability under the doctrines of absolute or qualified immunity, the plaintiff might still be able to make out a valid claim against the officer’s employer.

                […]

                Monell equips civil rights plaintiffs with a powerful tool to avoid qualified immunity in seeking recovery in police misconduct lawsuits. But the doctrine has its limitations.

                However, a plaintiff suing under a Monell theory is not suing the municipality as if it had committed the unconstitutional act—a concept referred to in the law as respondeat superior, meaning “let the master answer.” Instead, a plaintiff must sue the municipality directly for implementing policies or customs that ultimately caused the infringing action.

                This is precisely what I’m talking about.

                The argument against qualified immunity is that it presents a high bar to sue the officer directly because there must be existing case-law suggesting that the action was a violation of const. rights.

                Again, little in this article has told me why it’s easier to sue the officer directly, while staring down QI, when this article (to me) seems to clearly state that you can take a policy put in place by the employer (in this case the police dept. local in Arkansas) and declare that the policy that caused the infringing action, that being the policy that allows officers to throw flashbangs into an innocent person’s home without warning.

                After reading this article, it has not answered my question. It has in fact suggested that suing the municipality might be the better option. Thank you for the link.

                Oh, and again, yes, the article talks about the limitations of 1983, but it hasn’t address the “1 billion” annually that cities are paying out in liability claims. When those were successful, why were they successful.

                1. You have to sue the correct person or group. If the officer was following policy, then you can sue the city, if the officer was not following policy then you can sue the officer. However commonly judges do legal backflips to make sure that you can sue neither.

                  1. You have to sue the correct person or group. If the officer was following policy, then you can sue the city, if the officer was not following policy then you can sue the officer.

                    My guess is, that’s going to be more tricky to clearly show than it reads on paper.

                    1. Yes, which is why people have repeatedly explained that Monell claims are usually more difficult to prove than the claims against the individual officers, even with qualified immunity in play (the exception is when the bad actor is of a high enough level that they count as acting for the municipality). The City of Minneapolis almost certainly didn’t have a policy directing its officer to continue kneeling on the neck of a suspect for 2 minutes (or however long it was) after they can’t find a pulse anymore, and was arguing that the officers on the scene were not following the proper procedures. And when it’s a garden variety excessive force claim there’s almost no chance.

                      But again, almost all Section 1983 claims against municipal employees involve claims against the individual officers as well as Monell claims against the municipalities (states are not considered persons under Section 1983 and cannot be sued under Section 1983). When you hear about a municipality settling a case, they are usually settling on behalf of themselves and their employees (remember the vast majority of union contracts require the municipality to indemnify their employees), and the bigger concern is about the liability based on their indemnity obligations of their employees.

              2. No, that article deals with suing the municipality for violating one’s civil rights, not for simple tort of damage done by employees’ negligence.

  5. “… there were so many successful lawsuits against municipalities, that normal city services (and by extension, taxpayers) were bearing the brunt of bad policing.”

    Don’t worry about reduced government “services,” worry about increased taxes and government borrowing.

    The greatest service, the only real service, that a government has ever provided any private citizen is benign neglect, leaving them alone to live and prosper without government meddling and plundering.

  6. ALL “No Knock Warrants “should be outlawed.

    1. Agreed. If someone is that dangerous, just wait for them to take out the garbage or check the mail. That’s what they did with Whitey Bulger, because he was a very real threat. When the treat is real, they don’t explode in with overwhelming force. They only do that because they enjoy terrorizing people.

    2. Not sure why they even called them “no knock” warrants. When you understand the purpose of a warrant, a “no knock” warrant doesn’t seem to make any sense.

      Not knocking and kicking in a door is when you have a hostage situation which has left law enforcement no choice but to rush in and save lives.

  7. Cops get home safe? Union dues paid up? All good then.

  8. What are the odds that this asshole gets QI ??

    Personally I think he should be charged with attempted homicide since there was absolutely no reason for him to flip this poor woman’s car.

    https://jalopnik.com/cop-flips-pregnant-womans-while-she-tries-to-pull-over-1847062704
    Summary : “A woman in Arkansas is suing a State Police trooper who flipped her vehicle while she was trying to find a safe place to pull over. She wants to change how and when the police department applies the PIT maneuver against drivers and fleeing suspects”

    There’s even video of the attempted murder

    1. Got it. If being pulled over in Arkansas, slam on my brakes on the freeway and just stop right there.

  9. I guess we are going to need a constitutional amendment to state that the constitution is “settled law”.
    Of course, that may derail lots of democrat platform planks, so maybe not.

  10. So the new Democrat Sheriff elected in Henry County, Reginald Scandrett, who came from corruption plagued DeKalb county, seems more concerned about racial healing and conversations, than stopping the use of heavily armed no knock raids for drug crimes. That’s how innocent Breonna Taylor got killed.

    No mention of the fact that the sheriff and Onree Norris are black. Which black lives matter here?

    1. Since 93% of murdered black folks are killed by other blacks, why should I care? If blacks can’t be bothered to care about their own race, should anyone else really give a damn?

  11. Let me get this straight.

    These highly trained and professional LEO’s “carefully planned a high-risk raid at what was thought to be a dangerous target house but made a mistake when faced with an unexpected circumstance—the residence not matching the description given.”

    But if they’re highly trained, professional, and carefully planned a high-risk raid, would not you expect them to have, at some point in the planning process, raised the question of what to do if their intelligence doesn’t match the physical location?

    I mean, the military calls that ‘contingency planning’. Part of the planning process is thinking of things that could go wrong and what alternative courses of action you should take to handle those circumstances.

  12. Cops’ idiotic and ubiquitous wrong address raids show the folly of the cop apologists favorite line ” I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t have to worry about the cops.”

    All across the country cops keep raiding the wrong address and abusing people with impunity.

    “Armed with assault rifles and wearing all black, six Myrtle Beach police officers rammed through a front door, forced their way inside a home and pointed their guns at a teenager. His sister ran and hid in a closet. Their mother was pulled outside while screaming.

    Police were searching for a burglary suspect when they raided Sarah Magallanes’ home.

    But police had the wrong address.”

    https://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/news/local/article232863562.html#storylink=cpy

  13. Go Antifa! Go BLM! Go Portland! You are the heroes whose bold actions ensure that downscaling the police will NEVER become a popular idea! Carry on!

  14. “The great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have. The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution; it cannot imagine taking the risks.” ~ H. L. Mencken (1926). “Notes on Democracy,” p. 50, Alfred A. Knopf

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn , The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

  15. At 78 the victim doesn’t really have much to fear from life in prison. He should start with Captain Cody move on to each of the judges who ruled against him, and then proceed through the rest of the thugs who attacked him. It would be interesting to see how many he could execute before they stopped him.

  16. They’re after a drug dealer, not a Hans Gruber. Imagine for a moment that the cops had simply knocked on the door. Mr. Norris could have answered the door and told them they had the wrong house and then they could have proceeded to the house they were actually after and knocked on the door there.

  17. “That “carefully planned” raid went awry when officers went to the correct address—which housed a suspected drug dealer, courtesy of a confidential informant—and it looked a bit different than expected. “When they arrived at the residence, it did not match the description from the Task Force briefing because the house had been abandoned and looked like a ‘storage out-building’ rather than a habitable residence, as the briefing explained,” the panel noted. “This mismatch led members of the Response Team to conclude that the house next door, Norris’s house, must be the actual target residence.”

    What in the actual fucjk?!? You understand this people? In the United States of America, the cops will bust down your door and trash your home on nothing more than the word of an informant. They will go so far as to GUESS as in this instance!

  18. Why do we need a new law to outlaw an unconstitutional, immoral, unAmerican law? How can such a law even exist? It certainly wouldn’t survive in a national vote because it creates a noble class, something even the Federalists were against. It exists because the reps are NOT our reps; they rep themselves. They are the govt. of an elite, for an elite, by an elite. And every voter enforces their own slavery by authorizing an elite to rule over the voters and the non voters who want no part of govt. or being ruled.

    1. Not every voter. I vote libertarian or not at all, and nobody can be everybody without me. Communo-anarchists are welcome to rise up and use force instead, and I promise not to chuckle too obtrusively when the Second Law of politics kicks in.

      1. Whatever. You’re a fucking weirdo.

  19. Police might benefit from some relatively inexpensive technology from arborists that prune trees.

    Many tree pruning companies now use a GPS coordinate marking device. Apparently this happens a lot: the tree guy estimator comes out to your house to quote pruning multiple trees. Weeks later his crew shows up and cuts down the wrong trees. Customers are furious.

    The GPS coordinate marking device records the precise location of each tree in an area as small as a yard. The crew never cuts down the wrong trees with this technology.

    Seems like this cheap tech could save lots of innocent life and property, preventing raids on the wrong house or apartment. Also why not minimize raids altogether by simply waiting?

  20. Can we add this specificity clause to charges on us, John Q. Public? Defense Attorney: Do you have a ruling showing it is illegal to speed on this particular street at this particular time in this particular car?
    Prosecuting Attorney: No.
    Defense Attorney: Your Honor I move for dismissal as there is no prior rule showing what my client did is illegal.
    Judge: Well shoot! This qualified immunity may be getting out of hand. Case Dismissed!

  21. This a completely dishonest article! “There will be no justice”? Really? Do you even understand the law? The plaintiff still has causes of action under state law. Only plaintiff’s attorney’s complain about QI because they get fat attorney’s fees in federal court.

  22. So why not file claims naming the politicians who placed cop unions above the law by signing laws to that effect?

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