War on cops goes to court

El Dorado News-Times - - Opinion - Betsy McCaughey

The war on cops is mov­ing from the streets to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, the Jus­tices heard a case that threat­ens po­lice of­fi­cers with fi­nan­cial ruin if they make ar­rests, and the charges later get dropped.

It started with a late night bash. District of Columbia po­lice of­fi­cers were called by neigh­bors at 1 a.m. to in­ves­ti­gate a rowdy party at an un­oc­cu­pied row house. The po­lice found 21 par­ty­go­ers, liquor, trash and used con­doms strewn about, along with the smell of mar­i­juana and women with cash com­ing out of their pants. The par­ty­go­ers scat­tered, hid­ing in clos­ets.

When ques­tioned, some told po­lice "Peaches had in­vited them." Some gave other sto­ries. The po­lice phoned "Peaches," who ad­mit­ted to not hav­ing the owner's per­mis­sion to use the house. The po­lice then called the owner, who con­firmed no one had per­mis­sion. Two hours af­ter be­ing sum­moned, the po­lice made the de­ci­sion to ar­rest the par­ty­go­ers for tres­pass­ing -- the judg­ment call an is­sue in this case.

The charges were later dropped, be­cause it wasn't clear beyond a rea­son­able doubt the par­ty­go­ers knew they were tres­pass­ing. But 16 turned around and sued the po­lice for false ar­rest and vi­o­lat­ing their con­sti­tu­tional rights.

They never claimed the po­lice ver­bally or phys­i­cally abused them. They sued sim­ply for hav­ing been ar­rested, cuffed and hauled to the po­lice sta­tion. Amaz­ingly, the lower courts slapped the po­lice with nearly $1 mil­lion in dam­ages and le­gal fees -- one of nu­mer­ous re­cent lower court de­ci­sions mak­ing cops per­son­ally li­able for de­ci­sions they made on duty.

The jus­tices should put a stop to it. For­tu­nately, the Court has a long record of pro­tect­ing the po­lice from le­gal li­a­bil­ity, pro­vided there's no ev­i­dence of mal­ice or a de­lib­er­ate vi­o­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

If merely mak­ing an ar­rest puts cops at risk of get­ting sued and clob­bered with le­gal fees and dam­age awards, what po­lice of­fi­cer will ever make an ar­rest? One mis­take could mean los­ing their home and ev­ery­thing else. Faced with that risk, who would ever want to be a cop?

Twenty-six states and the fed­eral Jus­tice Depart­ment are weigh­ing in with a strong warn­ing that al­low­ing the lower court rul­ing to stand would have "vast con­se­quences" for law en­force­ment ev­ery­where. On the other side, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union is push­ing to shrink or even elim­i­nate the po­lice's le­gal im­mu­nity. The ACLU wants po­lice to have no room for er­ror.

Last week's oral ar­gu­ment sig­nals how the Jus­tices are likely to vote. Jus­tice Stephen Breyer sym­pa­thized with the par­ty­go­ers, sug­gest­ing it's out of "the Mid­dle Ages" to ex­pect them to know who's host­ing. Jus­tice Elena Ka­gan bragged she her­self had gone to par­ties with­out know­ing who the host was and where "mar­i­juana was maybe present."

Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor was de­ter­mined to play the race card, though race wasn't raised by ei­ther side. She asked "if po­lice of­fi­cers ar­rived at a wealthy home and it was white teenagers hav­ing a party ... I doubt very much those kids would be ar­rested." Shame on So­tomayor.

Neigh­bors called the cops be­cause they were con­cerned about the de­bauch­ery go­ing on next door to them. Of course, peo­ple in an up­scale neigh­bor­hood would do the same. Rich peo­ple and poor peo­ple, black and white alike, want po­lice pro­tec­tion and quiet en­joy­ment of their homes.

That pro­tec­tion is be­ing eroded. You can thank Black Lives Mat­ter street protests and pan­der­ing politi­cians. Man­hat­tan In­sti­tute scholar Heather MacDon­ald re­ports a na­tion­wide slow­down in polic­ing, be­cause cops are feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble and hes­i­tat­ing to make ar­rests. That means the war on cops is hurt­ing all of us.

A ma­jor­ity of the Jus­tices seem to get that. The Court's new­est mem­ber, Jus­tice Neil Gor­such, has fre­quently cau­tioned against courts "sec­ond-guess­ing" po­lice for the ac­tions they take in "tense, un­cer­tain, and rapidly evolv­ing cir­cum­stances." That's why the Court should rule in fa­vor of le­gal im­mu­nity for the po­lice. Our pub­lic safety de­pends on it.

Con­tact Betsy McCaughey at betsy@bet­sym­c­caughey. com. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­site at www. cre­ators.com.

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