“”Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, FBI agents unsuccessfully attempted to pressure a group of innocent Muslims, including Muhammad Tanvir, to become informants for the Bureau,” notes the Institute for Justice (I.J.), which filed an amicus brief in Tanvir v. Tanzin. “Tanvir and the others—who were all either American citizens or lawful permanent residents—declined to become informants, because doing so goes against their sincerely held religious beliefs. FBI agents then harassed the group and placed them all on the No-Fly List.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights acts as co-counsels for the plaintiffs alongside the CUNY School of Law’s CLEAR Clinic. They sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ Muslim faith forbids them to inform on coreligionists. The defendants—FBI agents who put Tanvir and the other plaintiffs on the no-fly list—protested that the RFRA doesn’t provide for monetary damages against government officials who violate rights, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise in an important 2020 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas.”
“In 2021, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain wrote about Aswad Khan’s mistreatment by the FBI when he refused to be an informant. That same year, Ahmad Chebli, a U.S. citizen, described a similar ordeal.
“Agents threatened my family and me,” he wrote. “They said that if I didn’t agree to become an informant, my family would be investigated, my wife and I could be arrested, my children could be taken away, and my wife’s immigration status could be at risk.”
Chebli was finally removed from the No Fly list after the ACLU sued on his behalf.
Watchlists aren’t supposed to be used this way. In 2014, a federal district judge declared the byzantine process for people to challenge their inclusion on the no-fly list unconstitutional and ordered better guarantees of due process. But as Chebli’s case demonstrates, it’s easy for the government to put people on the lists and then pull them off years later only after they’ve gone through the hassle and expense of filing a federal lawsuit—if they ever do. With no further consequences, that leaves administrative tools like the No Fly List available for ongoing abuse.”
“While Mills’ claims and the video she recorded are chilling, she faces an uphill battle in receiving restitution due to the specter of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that protects government officials from civil liability even when their actions are unconstitutional.”
“Derek Chauvin, the policeman who killed George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020, had a history of citizen complaints and was thought to be “tightly wound,” not a trait ideal for someone patrolling the streets with a deadly weapon. But under the police union’s collective bargaining agreement, the police commissioner lacked the authority to dismiss Chauvin, or even reassign him. The lack of supervisory authority resulted in harms that continue to reverberate in American society.”
“Units like these don’t just suffer from a lack of transparency and use tactics likely to spawn violence. Their rhetoric attracts “police officers who enjoy being feared,” Balko notes, and it positions these officers as both elite and beyond the normal rules. There are all sorts of horror stories about similar units, such as Detroit’s STRESS unit (“Over a two-year period, the units killed at least 22 people, almost all of them Black”) or Los Angeles’ CRASH unit (“More than 70 officers were implicated in planting guns and drug evidence, selling narcotics themselves and shooting and beating people without provocation”).
Memphis has now disbanded the SCORPION squad.”
“This is far from the first time that police have drastically misrepresented the way things went down before surveillance footage or body camera videos showed that they weren’t telling the truth. To distill this to its essence: Police lie. They lie to protect themselves. They like to give their activities a more noble sheen. They lie to dehumanize those they arrest or aggress against. And yet members of the media often take cops at their word and move on.”
“During the summer of 2020, the federal government seemed poised to offer some sort of reform to qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields local and state government actors—not just police—from facing federal civil suits when they violate someone’s constitutional rights, so long as the way they infringe on the Constitution has not been “clearly established” in prior case law. That explains, for example, why two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant could not be sued for that act: While we would expect most people to know that was wrong, there was no court precedent that said theft under such circumstances was a constitutional violation.
It’s an exacting standard that can defy parody in the ways in which it prevents victims of government abuse from seeking damages in response to government misconduct. In the case of Tyre Nichols, for example, it’s quite plausible that the officers who killed him could be convicted of murder and still receive qualified immunity—a testament to how disjointed and unforgiving the doctrine can be.”
“Those skeptical of qualified immunity reform typically cite an uneasiness about bankrupting officers. They can take heart that cities indemnify their employees against such claims, meaning the government pays any settlement. It’s certainly an imperfect solution in terms of holding individual bad actors accountable, but it gives victims of state abuse an outlet to achieve some semblance of reparation. Make it so any settlements come out of a police pension fund, and you’ve created a major incentive for departments to excise its consistently problematic actors.”
“In January 2016, Mesa police responded to a report of a man pointing a rifle out of a hotel window. It was in fact Shaver showing a pellet gun that he used at his exterminator job to a couple other hotel guests in his room.
Police ordered Shaver out of the hotel room and onto the ground, with his hands behind his head. But instead of handcuffing Shaver, officers—bizarrely—started barking confusing and contradictory orders at him to crawl toward them. As a clearly terrified and drunk Shaver tried to crawl toward the police, he appeared to reach toward his waistband to pull up his sagging shorts. A Mesa officer, Philip Mitchell Brailsford, shot Shaver five times with an AR-15, killing him.”
“In 2017, a jury acquitted Brailsford of second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter. This is because juries are instructed to judge officers not by how a normal civilian would respond, but by how a reasonable police officer is trained to respond to a threat, real or imagined. As Reason’s Jacob Sullum wrote, the acquittal showed that cops on trial benefit from a double standard: “Unlike ordinary citizens, they can kill with impunity as long as they say they were afraid, whether or not their fear was justified.””
“Brailsford indeed challenged his termination, and in response, the city cut a special deal that allowed him to be temporarily re-hired so he could retire with medical benefits and a disability pension. Brailsford claimed that killing Shaver and his subsequent prosecution gave him post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of this, he will receive a monthly pension check of $2,569.21 for the rest of his life, courtesy of Mesa taxpayers.”
“When officials in one Alabama town realized local law prevented them from firing two police officers, they dissolved their entire police department instead.
Last Thursday, the small town of Vincent—a hamlet outside Birmingham, Alabama, with a population of just under 2,000—decided to abolish its police department. The department, which employed three officers in total, was disbanded following a June incident that uncovered the exchange of racist text messages sent by at least one Vincent police officer.
In the messages, one officer, who remains unidentified by Vincent officials, asked an unidentified respondent “What do y’all call a pregnant slave?” to which the respondent replied with a string of question marks. “BOGO Buy one, get one free” texted the officer in response.”
“he City Council was unable to simply fire the officers. According to Vincent city law, police officers cannot be fired unless they receive two formal complaints and a verbal warning. With little other recourse, the Vincent City Council passed a resolution which temporarily dissolved the town’s small police department.
This incident isn’t the first time a small town has dissolved its police department for bad behavior. In particular, several small towns found to be engaging in illegal “speed trap” schemes have voted to disband their police departments.”
“this story is the latest in a long string of incidents where cops have lost their jobs for bigoted text messages. While speech by government officials is generally protected by the First Amendment, it has a few important carve-outs. Speech by government employees is only protected when it is a matter of public concern, like an allegation of corruption, and when the public employee’s speech interests are more important than the employer’s ability to maintain order.
“There’s no bright line here,” Popehat’s Ken White notes. “But in general, an employee’s speech is most likely to be protected if it’s on the employee’s own time, on the employee’s own platform or a platform not run by the employer, involves policy issues rather than personal attacks on people in the government workplace, and the employer can’t show evidence of disruption of order or function.”
While it is unclear whether the officer’s text messages were sent while off-duty using their personal phones, Vincent officials regardless had interest in punishing the officers. In 2021, at least 85 criminal cases were thrown out after at least a dozen of Torrance, California, police officers were found to have exchanged racist, antisemitic, and homophobic text messages.
Even if public officials hadn’t been barred by a city statute from firing the two officers, it seems the First Amendment would have provided little protection for the officers’ racially charged jokes. In fact, their messages made them a legal liability.”
“the Supreme Court partially opted to dismantle Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics—its 1971 decision that allowed a man to sue federal officers who searched his home without a warrant and then strip-searched him at a courthouse—not by hearing a case and deciding on the merits but by refusing to do that.
The justices announced..51 years after the Court handed down Bivens—that they would decline to consider two major petitions. In the first, St. Paul Police Department Officer Heather Weyker, who was serving on a federal task force, conjured a fake sex-trafficking ring and jailed a teenage girl for two years on trumped-up charges. In the second, Department of Homeland Security Agent Ray Lamb allegedly tried to kill a man who had a personal beef with Lamb’s son; video appears to show Lamb attempting to pull the trigger of his gun, though it jammed.
Federal courts in both cases agreed with what may sound intuitive: Both Weyker and Lamb violated clearly established law. They are thus not protected by qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that can make it difficult to sue local and state actors when they violate the Constitution. But because they were working for the federal government, they are protected by absolute immunity, the courts said, and their victims—Hamdi Mohamud and Kevin Byrd, respectively—may not sue them for disgracing their positions.”
“By demurring at hearing those cases, the Supreme Court has upheld the decisions giving both officers absolute immunity for committing transgressions while policing domestically. “Today’s rulings are basically saying that you can never sue federal officials, period,” notes Bidwell.”
“The Supreme Court ruled..that if a police officer fails to inform you of your right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination when you’re suspected of a crime, you can’t sue under federal law as a violation of your civil rights.
To be clear, the Court isn’t overturning Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 Supreme Court ruling that determined that it’s a violation of a suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights for police to interrogate him or her about a crime without informing them they have the right to remain silent and the right to request an attorney. But what the Court ruled today is that if and when this right is violated, people can’t turn to Section 1983 of the U.S. code and file a civil action lawsuit against the police officer or law enforcement agency and seek redress or damages.”
“Essentially, Alito’s opinion says that the purpose of Miranda is to serve as a safeguard against compelled self-incrimination by police or prosecutors. It was not intended to establish that it was inherently a Fifth Amendment violation if somebody voluntarily confesses or self-incriminates himself or herself prior to or absent of a Miranda warning.”
“Alito concludes that because a violation of Miranda is not automatically a violation of the Fifth Amendment, there is no justification to permit a civil rights lawsuit. The opinion reverses a judgment in Tekoh’s favor and remands it back to the lower courts to revisit.
The dissent is written by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan observes the obvious in her dissent, that this ruling will make it harder for defendants to pursue legal remedies when their rights are violated”
“the Supreme Court recognizes that these constitutional rights exist, but by shielding officers from liability for violating these rights, the Court undermines the necessary tools to make sure police take them seriously.”
“A series of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have made it practically impossible to sue a federal officer over an alleged constitutional rights violation. In a 6-3 ruling released today, the Court doubled down on this regrettable trend.
The case is Egbert v. Boule. At issue were the actions of a border patrol agent who sought to question one of the guests at a Washington state bed-and-breakfast about the guest’s immigration status. When owner Robert Boule told the agent, Erik Egbert, to leave his property, Egbert allegedly assaulted Boule. Then, when Boule complained about the alleged assault to the agent’s superiors, Egbert allegedly retaliated by asking the IRS to investigate Boule, who was audited. Boule sued Egbert for violating his Fourth Amendment rights (the assault) and his First Amendment rights (the retaliation against Boule’s complaint).
In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1971), the Supreme Court allowed federal officers to be sued in federal court for alleged Fourth Amendment violations. Unfortunately, the Court has since narrowed Bivens to point of practically overruling it. Today’s decision in Egbert v. Boule has shriveled Bivens even further.
“The Court of Appeals permitted not one, but two constitutional damages actions to proceed against a U.S. Border Patrol agent,” complained the majority opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas. “Because our cases have made clear that, in all but the most unusual circumstances, prescribing a cause of action is a job for Congress, not the courts, we reverse.” Thomas’ opinion was joined in full by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that Thomas’ decision was plainly at odds with Bivens. “Boule’s Fourth Amendment claim does not arise in a new context,” she wrote, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. “Bivens itself involved a U.S. citizen bringing a Fourth Amendment claim against individual, rank-and-file federal law enforcement officers who allegedly violated his constitutional rights within the United States by entering his property without a warrant and using excessive force. Those are precisely the facts of Boule’s complaint.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch agreed with Sotomayor about that. “The plaintiff is an American citizen who argues that a federal law enforcement officer violated the Fourth Amendment in searching the curtilage of his home. Candidly, I struggle to see how this set of facts differs meaningfully from those in Bivens itself.” Still, Gorsuch concurred with Thomas, arguing that the officer should win this case because Bivens should be overruled outright.
The upshot [the] ruling is that federal officers, who already enjoy extraordinary protections against being sued over alleged rights violations, are now more untouchable than ever.”