E.D.N.Y.: QI not applied because it does protect those who knowingly violate constitutional rights

Law.com: “Deciding that qualified immunity has evolved to the point where it can protect police officers who intentionally flout constitutional rights, a federal judge in Brooklyn declined to grant it to four police officers who broke into a man’s house without a warrant while responding to a child abuse report that turned out to be false.” Thompson v. Clark, 14-CV-7349 (E.D. N.Y. June 11, 2018):

IV. Application of Law to Facts

A. Unlawful Entry of a Home

A jury will decide whether the officers’ warrantless entry of plaintiff’s home was justified by exigency.

Officers responded to the scene to investigate a report of child abuse. They were informed by EMTs that the 911 caller, who they believed might be intellectually challenged, had met them outside, and taken them into the apartment. The caller did not state that the abuse was ongoing; only that she had seen red marks on the baby.

Defendants requested entry to the apartment to investigate the alleged abuse. Plaintiff, who officers believed was the alleged perpetrator of child abuse, demanded that police produce a warrant to enter his home. This was plaintiff’s constitutional right. See Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 469–70 (2011). Police entry, however, may have been justified by the need to prevent ongoing harm to the baby or provide immediate aid before a warrant could be obtained. See, e.g., Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 406 (2006) (finding entry to a home was justified by exigency where officers responded to a loud house party at three a.m. and observed through a window a fight in the kitchen that had drawn blood); Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 49 (2009) (“It does not meet the needs of law enforcement or the demands of public safety to require officers to walk away from a situation like the one they encountered here. Only when an apparent threat has become an actual harm can officers rule out innocuous explanations for ominous circumstances. But [t]he role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties.”) (internal citation omitted).

The court declines to apply qualified immunity. Case precedent and policy rationale fail to justify an expansive regime of immunity that would prevent plaintiff from proving a serious constitutional violation. See Michael Silverstein, Rebalancing Harlow: A New Approach to Qualified Immunity in the Fourth Amendment, 68 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 495, 522 (2017) (“The less clear the law is, the more beneficial it might be to allow the case to proceed to trial and resolve the case on the merits.”).

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