Another local cop got away with abusing an individual’s rights thanks to qualified immunity and the incorporation doctrine.
U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote a stinging rebuke of the doctrine of qualified immunity before granting it to Richland Police Department Officer Nick McClendon.
“The Constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law—even at the hands of law enforcement. Over the decades, however, judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect law enforcement officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing. The doctrine is called ‘qualified immunity.’ In real life it operates like absolute immunity,” Reeves wrote.
And then the judge proved his own point, letting the Mississippi cop walk away without facing any consequences after an allegedly unwarranted traffic stop and vehicle search that did $4,000 damage to Clarence Jamison’s Mercedes.
“This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court. Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity. The officer’s motion seeking as much is therefore granted.”
According to court documents, McClendon told Jamison he pulled him over because the temporary tag on the vehicle was “folded up,” probably due to the wind. McClendon lied about why he needed to search the car, claiming he’d gotten a phone call reporting 10 kilos of cocaine in the Mercedes and pressed him five times to consent to the search and ultimately deployed a canine.
There was no such call.
The ensuing search lasted an hour-and-a-half and caused significant damage to the car. Police did not find any drugs or contraband in the vehicle.
Jamison sued in federal court, claiming McClendon violated the Fourth Amendment by “falsely stopping him, searching his car, and detaining him,” and “recklessly and deliberately causing significant damage to [his] car by conducting an unlawful search of the car in an objectively unreasonable manner amounting to an unlawful seizure of his property.”
He also sued for a violation of the 14th Amendment Amendment, claiming McClendon used “race as a motivating factor in the decision to stop him, search his car, and detain him.”
Ironically, the 14th Amendment was Jamison’s undoing. Were it not for the dubious “incorporation doctrine” made up by the Supreme Crout based on the 14th Amendment that purportedly empowers the federal government to apply the Bill of Rights to the states, this case would have never gone to federal court.
Jamison would have sued in state court based on the Mississippi Constitution’s bill of rights. Furthermore, were it not for the 14th Amendment and the incorporation doctrine, there would be no federal qualified immunity to shield cops like McClendon from the legal consequences of their actions.
Because Americans are conditioned to make everything into a federal case, people typically sue police for using excessive force or other types of misconduct through the federal court system under the U.S. Bill of Rights. But through a series of Supreme Court opinions, federal courts created a qualified immunity defense out of thin air, making it nearly impossible to hold law enforcement officers responsible for actions taken in the line of duty.
In order to move ahead with a suit, the plaintiff must establish that it was “clearly established” that the officer’s action was unconstitutional. The “clearly established” test erects an almost insurmountable hurdle to those trying to prove excessive force or a violation of their rights.
Through the incorporation doctrine and the application of the federal Bill of Rights to state and local governments, this system protects police officers in every city, county and state in the U.S. — from Honolulu, Hawaii to West Quoddy Head, Maine.
A decentralized system where cases were heard under state law and state constitutions would undoubtedly have problems. Some states would probably extend almost complete protection to law enforcement officers just like the federalized system. But surely some would be better.
In fact, Colorado recently passed a law creating a state cause of action in state courts to sue police officers when they infringe on “any constitutional right secured by the bill of rights of the Colorado constitution.” The law specifically states that qualified immunity “is not a defense” to such civil action.
The lesson here is pretty clear. Government protects its own.
Centralized power almost never benefits the average person in the long-run. The very existence of qualified immunity reinforces an ugly truth. We can’t trust the federal government to protect our rights. It almost always defers to government power.