The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced that Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jackie Botts, and Guillermo Gomez of Reuters have won the June Sidney Award for Shielded: For Cops Who Kill, Special Supreme Court Protection.
The investigation includes a groundbreaking data analysis that shows how the Supreme Court has honed the doctrine of qualified immunity to make it almost impossible to sue police officers for excessive force.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that says that police officers can’t be sued for their actions on the job, unless they break a “clearly established” federal law. The doctrine was intended to protect public officials from frivolous lawsuits, but as Justice Sonya Sotomayor observed in 2018, it has become “an absolute shield” for violent cops.
The Reuters team analyzed Supreme Court decisions on qualified immunity from 2005 through 2019. They found that the Supreme Court is 3.5 times more likely to hear a case from a police officer challenging a denial of qualified immunity than it is to hear a case from a citizen challenging qualified immunity granted to a police officer, even though officers and citizens appeal to the high court in equal numbers. When the Supreme Court hears a qualified immunity case, it almost always sides with the police.
Reuters uncovered three dozen cases where the officers got qualified immunity despite their behavior being deemed unlawful.