Manchester, NH — A police department in Manchester, New Hampshire is in the spotlight this week after issuing a call asking for new officers, and listing "qualified immunity" as one of the "unique benefits" and perks of employment.
"Located less than an hour from Boston, Manchester enjoys proximity to great schools and attractions, the beach, and the White Mountains. The department offers many opportunities to advance and additional unique benefits including qualified immunity. Click the link and apply now!" the post read.
Hours later, the department took down the post. "Earlier today Manchester Police published a recruitment post that referenced qualified immunity. This post was not the place for the mention of qualified immunity and was not appropriate. The post was removed and archived appropriately. As Chief of Police I take full responsibility for this post and the inappropriate mention of qualified immunity," Chief Allen Aldenberg said in a department Facebook post.
The idea that a police department would promote qualified immunity as a "unique benefit" of the job should come as no surprise.
Police unions in New Hampshire like the Manchester Association of Police Supervisors and the Manchester Police Patrolman's Association only offer up their endorsements to candidates who support qualified immunity. If you withdraw your support for the doctrine, like incumbent Chris Pappas, the representative for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, did last year, the union will with withdraw their support for you.
What's more, as municipalities across the country tried to end Qualified immunity last year, cops across the country pushed back big time — including lying about it.
In a recent report from the CATO Institute, policy analyst Jay Schweikert detailed some of the blatant "misrepresentations" used by police unions to justify keeping Qualified Immunity.
The National Association of Police Organizations ("NAPO"), submitted a letter to Congress to explain their opposition to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officials. The letter falsely claimed that if this doctrine is ended, cops can go to jail for simply doing their jobs.
With the change to qualified immunity, an officer can go to prison for an unintentional act that unknowingly broke an unknown law. We believe in holding officers accountable for their actions, but the consequence of this would be making criminals out of decent cops enforcing the laws in good faith.
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As Schweikert points out, the letter was written and signed by William F. Johnson, NAPO's Executive Director and General Counsel. Given Johnson's history as a former prosecutor, the idea of him claiming he is unaware that qualified immunity is a civil doctrine and not used to bar criminal prosecution of cops, is either glaring incompetence or blatant misinformation.
He didn't just say it in the letter to Congress, either, Johnson doubled down on his falsehoods in an interview with the Washington Times:
You’ve got federal lawmakers proposing a federal law that says that even when the federal law is so unclear as to be unknowable by any reasonable officer, that officer can still go to prison for an unintentional act that unknowingly broke an unknown law.
Schweikert accurately calls this assertion by Johnson, "astounding," adding that "one of the largest police organizations in the country is opposing qualified immunity reform based on the clearly erroneous assertion that the doctrine has anything to do with criminal prosecution."
Qualified immunity is why Kimberly Beck will likely never see justice for her son who was unarmed and shot in the heart by National Park Ranger Robert Mitchell. Beck's son, Charles “Gage” Lorentz was shot and killed by a National Park Ranger at Carlsbad Caverns National Park after he was pulled over for allegedly speeding on a dirt road. Body-camera footage of the incident was released last year showing that Lorentz was unarmed and did not do anything to provoke the use of force used by Mitchell. Beck attempted to hold Mitchell accountable but he was granted qualified immunity instead.
Also, as TFTP previously reported, on the night of Aug. 10, 2016, Tony Timpa called 911 asking police to help him because he had a history of mental illness and he was off his medication. When police arrived, Timpa was already handcuffed by a private security guard and was sitting peacefully on the sidewalk, asking police to help him. Instead of receiving help, however, police would mock Timpa and joke as they squeezed the life from him. For years the family fought for justice only to learn that a US District court would grant the officers qualified immunity in their case.
The protection cops haven enjoyed for decades started when the Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1982. With that move, the court granted all government officials immunity for violating constitutional and civil rights unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were “clearly established.”
“Qualified immunity protects police and other officials from consequences even for horrific rights abuses,” said the now-former Congressman Justin Amash. “It prevents accountability for the ‘bad apples’ and undermines the public’s faith in law enforcement. It’s at odds with the text of the law and the intent of Congress, and it ultimately leaves Americans’ rights without appropriate protection. Members of Congress have a duty to ensure government officials can be held accountable for violating Americans’ rights, and ending qualified immunity is a crucial part of that.”
If you are interested in the other paradigm shifting solutions into quelling police brutality and Americans' deprivation of rights, we propose five major solutions, including Qualified Immunity, that will have drastic changes. You can read that here.