Qualified Immunity

Cops Punched a Man Hanging From a Window and Tased Him After He Fell. They Got Qualified Immunity.

But the appeals court wasn't having it.

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Jose Peroza-Benitez was asleep in his Pennsylvania apartment when the police broke through his door, executing a warrant for a drug raid. Startled, he fled. The officers went on to chase him through the neighborhood, into an abandoned building, and out a window. As Peroza-Benitez dangled from the ledge, one cop punched him in the head, allegedly causing him to fall to the concrete. Another officer then reportedly tased him as he lay on the ground.

Those cops—Kevin Haser of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Daniel White of Reading Police Department, respectively—were originally awarded qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields government officials from federal civil rights suits if the specific way they violated your constitutional rights has not yet found its way into a court precedent. In other words, a jury of Peroza-Benitez's peers could not decide if damages were appropriate for the surgeries he received to address a broken leg and arm injuries.

In April, a federal court categorically rejected that argument. It was already "clearly established," it said, that state actors may not beat an unarmed man hanging from a building and then tase him when he is unconscious.

"Here, Peroza-Benitez was unarmed, injured, covered in his own blood, and hanging from a second-story window by his hands, feet dangling, when [Criminal Investigator] Haser—knowing Peroza-Benitez to be unarmed—punched him 'repeatedly' in the head with a closed fist," wrote Circuit Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Prior court rulings explicitly note that it is unconstitutional for police to "tase an individual who is positioned on an elevated surface at a height that carries with it a risk of serious injury or death, causing the individual to fall."

As a testament to how granular qualified immunity can be, Haser responded that he opted to punch the suspect instead of tasing the suspect. The court declined to indulge that distinction. But qualified immunity cases often turn on minute factual differences. Consider the group of prison guards who were originally awarded qualified immunity for locking a naked inmate in two filthy cells—one covered in "massive amounts" of human feces, the other with a sewage leak bubbling up on the floor—because the exact amount of time the man lived in those cells had not been etched out in pre-existing case law.

The 3rd Circuit similarly reversed Officer White's grant of qualified immunity. "There is a 'robust consensus of cases' that support the proposition that tasing a visibly unconscious person—who just fell over ten feet onto concrete—is a violation of that person's Fourth Amendment rights," noted Restrepo.

It is entirely possible that a jury will refuse to give Peroza-Benitez any damages whatsoever. There are disputes between the various officers' accounts and Peroza-Benitez's telling. Officer Michael Perkins, who was also on the scene, testified that the suspect "made a [lunging] motion like he was going to start running again" after he fell two stories, hitting a porch railing, and landing on the concrete stairwell. White says that Peroza-Benitez merely started to "sit forward." Peroza-Benitez says he was briefly knocked unconscious. All concede that he was "tased either immediately or almost immediately upon landing."

The important thing is that jurors will decide whether such force was justified. That's their role. It is not the role of a few bigwigs on the judiciary. The Founders "viewed citizen juries as indispensable to the civic life of a liberal democracy," Clark Neily, senior vice president for legal studies at the Cato Institute, told me last month. "The extent to which judges have almost completely marginalized [that], I think, is one of the most remarkable, and yet unremarked, developments of the modern judiciary." This time, the court agreed with the Founders' principle.

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  1. Damn democrats again.

    1. Yes, I bet that the damned democrats mind-controlled Jose Peroza-Benitez into doing this, just to make the out-of-office Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief look bad! It is known! And the LEOs were ALSO mind-controlled into being evil power-hungry punishment-obsessed pussy-grabbers as well! Damned EVIL Demon-craps!!!

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  2. On the flip side, Portlands entire riot squad resigns after one memeber is indicted for assault during riot

    https://www.foxnews.com/us/portland-police-riot-team-resigns-officer-indicted-assault

    1. The officers who agreed to resign will no longer work as part of the Rapid Response Team – but will remain employed by the police department, according to the PPB.

      Some resignation.

      1. How long, and how much money does it cost to train and certify fifty officers to do that job? They leave that position completely empty, so the city gets to figure out how to do it again from scratch.

        To unanimously do that is a pretty big deal.

        1. so the city gets to figure out how to do it again from scratch.
          Or they might decide they don’t need a RRT ?

          But even if they retrain new members etc — the RRT is much better off not having members who refuse to do the job if accountability for one’s actions is required.

          1. The problem is the “offending” RRT officer acted entirely consistent with his training. Yet he is still being punished. You have to be a fool NOT to resign

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  3. >> Startled, he fled.

    knowingly in trouble, he fled? merely startled wouldn’t cover the movie-chase

  4. He was dangling by his feet from the window when the officer punched him?
    I’m pretty sure that happened in a Popeye cartoon

  5. I will be dead before Reason publishes a positive story about law enforcement. Libertarians have their three go to topics that they continually harp on. No wonder I haven’t voted for that brainless crowd.

    1. Police not violating constitutional rights and abusing their authority is not a story. It is their job. Nobody writes a story when I do my job nor should they. I though in my job cannot violate someone’s rights or commit police brutality. Government officials, which is what police are, should not abuse their authority and when they do, THAT should be investigated by journalists

      1. Well it would ne nice if they didnt publish idiotic stories, lile the Space Force Tirtle Hunt Cocaine story.
        Even nicer if they would stop misleadingly leaving out key aspects of their other LEO stories, which they do more often than not.

        1. Well it would ne nice if they didnt publish idiotic stories, lile the Space Force Tirtle Hunt Cocaine story.

          Why do you read it if you don’t like what they post? And why do you come here to bitch about it?

          Go start your own magazine / website / newsletter and post a bunch of stories about whatever nonsense you find interesting.

    2. I only know one way to educate the intelligentsia about primal fight. They wouldn’t like it! This won’t work, but I’ll say it anyway. The struggle is completely mindless. There are only two states..resistance or submission. a person or animal in resistance is raging, even when restrained. A person or animal in submission resembles a rag doll.

    3. Cop porn sites are plentiful. If you want hero cop stories, maybe go there.

    4. I’ve had a number of good experiences with police officers in my life. It’s doesn’t always work but generally if you’re cool and polite then you get that back.

      1. As long as you show the proper amount of obeisance to your betters.

      2. “Generally”?
        Look, I am paying their salaries: if I am being polite, I should always get that back.
        I saw a video where the cop uttered the sentence, “Ma’am, drop the shotgun” — after the perp had shot him in the shoulder (and just before he fatally shot her).

        As a law-abiding citizen, I hope for the equivalent level of deference when I am just standing on the sidewalk.

        “Here’s the thing. I know being a cop is hard. I know that shit’s dangerous. But some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like … pilots. Ya know, American Airlines can’t be like, ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.’”
        — Chris Rock

    5. The police already have a huge support network and nationwide there salaries cost us a couple trillion ($2,000,000,000,000) a decade. I’ve had enough bad experiences with law enforcement that I realize they only do there job when it favors themselves.

      I caught a guy that smashed my rear window trying to break into my car, he did over $1000 in damage. I was from out of state, when I contacted the same cop the next day he told me his mommy said he was in college and would never do such a thing LOL!!! I could go one for a dozen equally outrageous experiences but you wouldn’t get it.

    6. A positive story would be deception.
      “The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs
      When all participants of a “system” are feeding from the same nose-bag, free from competition — and are allowed (by your neighbors and friends — hopefully not you) to
      • Make the laws,
      • Enforce the laws,
      • Prosecute the laws,
      • Hire the prosecutors,
      • License the “defense” attorneys,
      • Pay the “judges”,
      • Build the jails,
      • Contract jails out to private entities,
      • Employ and pay the wardens,
      • Employ and pay the guards,
      • Employ and pay the parole officers,
      One can’t honestly call it a “justice” system. It’s a system of abject tyranny.

  6. You can all cheer for this ruling, but who are you going to call when you need someone to punch a criminal in the head when they’re hanging from your balcony?

  7. Oooooh! The Cops!! Those eeeeevil cops!!!

    Why don’t we just, ya know, de-fund the police. And once we get rid of the evil cops, violence will cease in America and property rights shall be respected. As we have seen over the last year in cities like Minneapolis, Baltimore, Portland, San Francisco…

  8. Qualified Immunity is immoral, un-American, and yet it is law. What does that imply about the U.S. political process? Add to this law, many, many more, e.g., The Patriot Act, The NDAA, The Asset Forfeiture Act, on and on.
    Will the cowardly pubic ever admit they self-enslave? Will they stop singing “land of the free, home of the brave”? I pity the fools!

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