Police

Victims of Rights-Violating California Cops May Finally Get Justice in Court

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed S.B. 2 into law, despite some objections from police unions.

|

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a series of police reform bills into law yesterday as the state attempts to open the door to police accountability, bolster education and training, and curtail certain use-of-force techniques.

Perhaps most consequential was Senate Bill (S.B.) 2, which will create a decertification program for misbehaving officers so that they're no longer able to hop to a different law enforcement agency after losing their job. California was one of just four states that didn't have such a rule.

"Traditionally, what they've been able to do is that if they break the law—they've committed a felony—and when they're being investigated by their own department, they just tender a resignation, and when they leave there is not a negative mark on their employment," says Julia Yoo, president of the National Police Accountability Project, the country's largest civil rights attorneys organization. "They can say honestly, 'I have not been terminated from my previous employment.'…So they get hired by their second department, and the first investigation just goes away. On and on. It enables some officers who have committed egregious misconduct to continue to be employed."

The bill assembles a nine-person advisory board—composed of political appointees, some from law enforcement—to review misconduct claims and decide if an officer should have his or her license suspended or revoked. Those who lose a two-thirds vote may appeal.

Also noteworthy is the removal of certain immunities that protected police officers from accountability in civil court after they'd allegedly violated someone's constitutional rights.

Qualified immunity has been the nucleus of the police reform debate since last year. The legal doctrine prohibits victims of government abuse from suing certain state actors if the exact way their rights were infringed on has not been explicitly deemed unconstitutional in a prior court precedent. It's emboldened some of the worst behavior, including cops who allegedly stole $225,000 during a search warrant, because no preexisting ruling said that theft under those precise circumstances was wrong. It's also shielded a cop who killed a man who had been sleeping in his car, a group of cops who beat a man after pulling him over for broken taillights, and a cop who allegedly kneed a suspect in the eye 20 to 30 times after he'd already been subdued.

But California's state courts in certain circumstances employ absolute immunity, an even taller barrier to overcome, as it confers total protection to government actors in such cases despite any relevant case law. Federal cops currently have the same shield, which is how, for instance, an officer on a federal task force was able to avoid any civil penalty after throwing people in jail on false charges in connection with a fake sex-trafficking ring she concocted. S.B. 2 reels that in for California officers, although qualified immunity remains the law of the land for any lawsuit brought in federal court, as Congress recently demurred at any sort of police reform compromise.

Other states that have recently limited police immunity include New Mexico and Colorado, as well as New York City at the municipal level.

From its conception, police unions pushed back on some of the measures. The decertification portion, for example, was originally proposed last year as part of a different piece of legislation that met a quick death after various police advocacy groups objected. The Peace Officers Research Association, a law enforcement lobbying organization, said that even with many of their concerns addressed, S.B. 2 still provides "unclear, subjective and vague definitions" of "serious misconduct." The legislation was amended not long before the California legislature approved the bill in an attempt to address the lobby's worries. It passed with many moderate Democrats declining to vote—perhaps a sign of how influential police unions are, even in a blue state like California.

Concessions were made on immunity as well. "You have to prove what's called 'specific intent'" when attempting to sue a police officer, notes Yoo. "And the problem with 'specific intent' is that nobody knew what that meant," leaving it up to the subjective discretion of whoever is on the bench. The law enforcement lobby was able to keep that "extra layer" in the law, said Yoo.

NEXT: USPS Implements New Business Plan of Higher Prices and Worse Service

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. the problem with ‘specific intent’ is that nobody knew what that meant,” leaving it up to the subjective discretion of whoever is on the bench.

    Well, there it is. “Specific intent” *means* “the subjective discretion of whoever is on the bench”.

    *** punds gavel ***

      1. These are 2 pay checks $78367 and $87367. that i received in last 2 months. I am very happy that i can make thousands in my part time and now i am enjoying my life. Everybody can do this and earn lots of dollars from home in very short time period. Just visit this website now. Open this web…… ­­­­WorkJoin1

        1. Seriously paycheck of $19632 and all i was doing is to copy and paste work online. this home work makes me able to DDS generate more cash daily easily. simple to do work and regular income from this are just superb. Here what i am doing.

          Try now…VISIT HERE

          1. Sarah getting Paid up to $18953 in the week, working on-line at home. I’m full time Student. I shocked when my sister’s told me about her check that was $97k. It’s very easy to do.QEd everybody will get this job. Go to home media tab for additional details……

            So I started……… READ MORE

      2. I’d like to buy a vowel, please. The letter “O”.

  2. Blue state, not my problem.

  3. Congress recently demurred at any sort of police reform compromise.

    You should place that squarely on the Democrats. This is something enough Republicans support that it could get done right now.

    1. Team Red is squarely against doing anything about qualified immunity. They are unwilling to budge on this fundamental issue. They are as much an obstacle to compromise as Team Blue.

      1. That’s not entirely true.

        The other hurdle you have is the Democrats natural disingenuousness over the issue. The disparity between what they say vs what they do. Democrats will talk about “dealing with QI”, but they won’t touch it because their traditional constituency, public sector unions… are uniformly FOR qualified immunity. One of the largest, post powerful unions in the country (Teacher’s Union) is against mucking with QI.

        QI is like the third rail of Public Sector Union politics. You simply don’t touch it. You can pretend to touch it, like the states mentioned in this story, but you can’t really touch it.

        At least for the Republicans who are against touching QI, at least I feel their motivations are honest. Misguided… wrong… sure, but I know what their argument is. But when a Democrat starts talking about dealing with QI, I always notice he keeps making occasional eye contact with the Teacher’s Union thug at the back of the room.

        1. That link is from 15 months ago. Team Red opinion on QI has shifted a bit since then.

          And no Team Blue is not unified on the issue. Their own internal division also led to a failure to get anything done.

        2. “At least for the Republicans who are against touching QI, at least I feel their motivations are honest. Misguided… wrong… sure, but I know what their argument is. But when a Democrat starts talking about dealing with QI, I always notice he keeps making occasional eye contact with the Teacher’s Union thug at the back of the room.”

          Oh come on. If we are going to go all cynical here, it is worth noting that Team Red has gotten a lot of mileage out of their “back the blue” position and their position against QI is motivated AT LEAST as much by not wanting to piss off cops and cop-worshipping voters, as Team Blue is motivated by not wanting to pass off public sector unions.

          1. Team Red has gotten a lot of mileage out of their “back the blue” position and their position against QI is motivated AT LEAST as much by not wanting to piss off cops and cop-worshipping voters

            If I ask a person on Team Red why they want to leave QI in place, they say they’re motivated by wanting to support police in their jobs, and not piss off their constituents.

            If I ask someone from Team Blue, they ALL tell me they want to end QI, a good percentage of them tell me they want to defund the police.

            In the latter group, almost all of them are lying. They neither want to end QI, and they believe in defunding until…

            They’re no different than Noam Chomsky, noted anarchist who famously dithered when the prospect of actually cutting government loomed large.

            1. You have actually been out surveying people, or this is hypothetical talks you have had?

              1. Real questions. I live in #DefundThePolice central.

                But seriously, let me ask you this, if a cop-sucking republican who believes the police 472% of the time says “I don’t want to end QI because the cops are never wrong, and it will only hamstring their efforts to do their jobs” do you not believe him? Do you think he’s lying to you?

                It seems we’re purposefully getting confused between “someone odious I really disagree with but is very clear on his position on this topic” and “someone who’s saying something agreeable but really means something else”

                Pretty much all of the cop-suckers I know will tell you straight out: Everyone who got shot by police deserved it.

                You may not like, I may not like it, but I know what there position on the subject is, and I know where they stand.

                But when a #DefundThePolice douchebag calls 911 the second things get dicey is nothing more than a grandstanding liar.

                1. Wait, are we talking about the voters, or the politicians?

                  I absolutely agree that there are true believers on both Team Red and Team Blue in terms of the voters.

                  But when it comes to the politicians, neither team0 is above cynical pandering.

          2. Scumbag lefite jeffsarcmikeassholerednick the fat ass from Brooklyn is the worst democrat evah.

  4. So I have a few concerns about this new law.

    I understand the concern here, bad cops can game the system to avoid being held accountable and so that’s a rationale for this new police board.

    But will this new board actually conduct the necessary investigations of troublesome police behavior in a professional and unbiased manner? Having political representatives as well as police representatives, it sounds like it will either be a kangaroo court or a dysfunctional mess.

    1. ^This^

      Back in the ’80s, Philly had a civilian review board for police shootings, stacked with cop haters. Cops wouldn’t even show up for the hearings because they knew it was a show trial, and their union would protect them.

  5. There’s no thread for the biggest story going, so now you get this . . .
    Biden is calling for progressive democrats to cut $1.5 trillion off of his $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. Apparently, this is the point where Manchin will support the bill in order to get progressive Democrats in the House on board with the infrastructure bill.

    Biden is taking responsibility for not holding a vote on the infrastructure bill today, so it’s being rescheduled for the third time this week–due to Pelosi not having enough Democrat votes to pass it in the House.

    If neither bill can pass until the progressives in the House cut $1.5 trillion off of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, then I’m not sure either bill will pass. Furthermore, time is not on Biden’s side. He’s not about to become more popular over time.

    Meanwhile, he’s angering both sides of his own base with this maneuver. Progressives don’t want to cut $1.5 trillion off of their plan to save the world from global warming and transforming America into a European socialist welfare state. And the moderates (and the unions they represent) are sick of waiting for their infrastructure bill.

    The clock is running out on the chances of this thing passing, and he just pissed both sides off equally.

    1. I’m confused (this politics as checkers stuff is not really my thing). Why would the infrastructure bill be MORE likely to pass if they cut $1.5 trillion from it? You’d get more moderates on board, but you’d lose progressives completely.

      1. That $2 trillion number appears to be Manchin’s final price. Per the signed document that I linked in comments this morning, Manchin told everyone that he wouldn’t sign onto the budget reconciliation bill unless the progressives in the House cut the price down from $3.5 trillion to $1.5 trillion. Now, after negotiations, here’s what Biden is saying:

        “WASHINGTON—President Biden called on House Democrats to hold off on voting on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill until after they reach an agreement on a separate social-policy and climate bill, moving to again delay final passage of a central piece of his own agenda in a bid to unify restive Democrats.

        Even as Mr. Biden endorsed progressives’ push to hold up a vote on the infrastructure bill, however, he acknowledged in a closed-door meeting with House Democrats on Friday that the price tag of the social-policy and climate bill would need to drop substantially below $3.5 trillion to closer to roughly $2 trillion, according to lawmakers and aides.

        https://www.wsj.com/articles/democrats-try-again-to-pass-infrastructure-bill-11633097276?

        If Manchin won’t sign onto the bill unless they cut $1.5 trillion off of it, then cutting $1.5 trillion is what they’ll need to do. The progressives may balk at $2 trillion, but Manchin won’t go any higher than that.

  6. Amanda Presto, writer at the Daily Wire twitter account suspended for this tweet:

    Demanding others call you by your “preferred pronouns” and growing out your hair doesn’t make you a woman. Stop demeaning womanhood. You are not a “TERF” who should “die” for pointing this all. Have a lovely Wednesday, world 🙂

    1. Men are men, women are women. Not ‘misinformation’.
      Deal with it.

      1. UNFAIR!!!

        If reality does not fit my delusional fantasy, then someone has oppressed me. I demand equity!

  7. Anniversaries are the perfect time to remember why we are there. Remember why we keep trying, why we care so much and why we want to keep doing it. It’s finding your reflection in the eyes of the person you love and realizing the smile in your face.
    It is a moment to look back on time and see the road traveled with all the willingness to keep walking that same stretch, to keep walking by their side.
    https://bit.ly/3kEgmyR

  8. The bill assembles a nine-person advisory board—composed of political appointees, some from law enforcement—to review misconduct claims…

    The ratio of LEO to civilian scum would be key.

Please to post comments