(The Center Square) – Ohio House Democrats are preparing legislation that would allow law enforcement officers to be sued and would require them to personally pay a percentage of judgement.
The bill, if introduced, passed and signed, would end the defense of qualified immunity for police officers. The defense first was developed by the U.S. Supreme Court and later clarified in a 1982 decision that said qualified immunity applies if the government official acted in good faith.
The bill also is expected to include a provision that would make officers who lose a lawsuit to be liable for 5%, up to a maximum of $25,000, of the settlement amount.
“It’s time to get serious about ensuring more accountability for our officers,” Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, said. “While we respect the difficult nature of their work, the difficulty of the job is not justification for an absolute shield from any liability when an officer uses excessive or even deadly force against people. Those individuals and their families should have a real opportunity to hold that officer accountable, without the blanket protections of qualified immunity.”
Ohio Republicans offered a police reform plan in April that called for a professional licensing and oversight board, an officer discipline data base, a use of force data base and additional training. That proposal did not address qualified immunity.
Democrats rolled out their police reform package last week after the death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was shot and killed by a Columbus police officer. Body cam footage from Bryant’s shooting showed the officer approaching a group of people and Bryant apparently pushing or swinging at a person who falls. Bryant then appeared to swing a knife at another person before being shot by the officer.
Columbus officer Adam Coy was fired after shooting Andre Hill in December as he walked out of a garage holding a cellphone, according to The Associated Press.
The AP also reported body cameras showed that after Hill was shot, two other officers rolled Hill over and put him in handcuffs before leaving him alone again. No camera footage showed officers offering first aid while Hill was bleeding on the ground.
“Ohioans deserve the opportunity to hold police officers responsible when excessive or deadly force is used,” Rep. Sedrick Denson, D-Cincinnati, said. “Accountability is key to transparent, effective, community-based policing and helps to ensure the safety of both police officers and the communities they serve. Qualified immunity creates a barrier to accountability that is unacceptable. Policing is a difficult job, there is no doubt about that. However, that does not diminish the need to hold police officers liable for their actions.”