State Reps. Thomas West (D-Canton) and Sedrick Denson (D-Cincinnati) today announced that they will soon introduce legislation to limit qualified immunity for police officers in Ohio.
“It’s time to get serious about ensuring more accountability for our officers,” said Rep. West. “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.”
“Ohioans deserve the opportunity to hold police officers responsible when excessive or deadly force is used,” said Rep. Denson. “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.”
Qualified immunity is the legal doctrine that government officials, including law enforcement, cannot be held liable for wrongdoing while going about their jobs. It was first developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The Court later clarified in a 1982 decision that qualified immunity applies if the government official was acting in good faith and didn’t know what they were doing was illegal.
The bill, which is in the final stages of the drafting process, would remove qualified immunity as a defense for police officers, thus allowing individuals to sue officers in state court. Additionally, officers who lose the lawsuit would be personally liable for five percent, up to a maximum $25,000, of the settlement amount.
Colorado and Connecticut have already enacted legislation to limit qualified immunity.
The lawmakers’ forthcoming bill is part of a package of police reform legislation House Democrats announced on Monday during a virtual press conference. The package focuses on increasing accountability for law enforcement, addressing racial bias and improving community-police relations.
Once the bill is formally introduced, it will be assigned a bill number and referred to a House committee.