Suits vs. police difficult, say local lawyers
Civil rights attorneys know challenges from years of suing officers
June 13, 2020
SD Union Tribune
The protesters who have flooded streets in downtown San Diego, La Mesa and around the county in the past two weeks have called for racial justice and sweeping changes to policing.
For the specialized group of lawyers who specialize in civil rights lawsuits alleging police misconduct or excessive force, it’s a familiar cry. For years these lawyers have had a ground-level view of how challenging it can be to fashion and sustain a legal case against police, and the cities that employ them.
“I think qualified immunity is the biggest impediment to accountability nationwide when you talk about the whole legal movement trying to hold people accountable,” said San Diego civil rights lawyer Thomas Robertson.
One significant case from San Diego decided in 2009 illustrated how the doctrine works. Coronado resident Carl Bryan was Tasered by a police officer in 2005 after he was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. The officer fired the Taser dart, and a stunned Bryan pitched forward face first, knocking out four teeth and suffering other face wounds. Ultimately, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that using the Taser can be an excessive use of force — the first ruling that categorized use of the weapon in that way. However, because there was no established finding that using the Taser was an excessive use of force when the incident occurred in 2005 the court concluded Officer Brian McPherson got qualified immunity — even though it also agreed with Bryan and his lawyers that using the Taser was excessive force.
“We won,” Julia Yoo, one of Bryan’s lawyers said, “but we lost. At least, we did establish you could not go around Tasing people for no reason."
Read the complete article in the San Diego Union-Tribune here...