The US Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped a chance to review the scope of a legal defense called qualified immunity that increasingly has been used to shield police accused of excessive force, turning away an appeal by a Cleveland man who sued after being roughed up by police while trying to enter his own home.
The justices declined to hear the appeal by Shase Howse, who said he was slammed to the ground outside the house where he lived with his mother in a poor and mostly Black neighborhood, struck in the back of the neck and jailed after police deemed his actions suspicious. Howse, who was 20 at the time, is Black. The police involved in the 2016 incident are white.
Qualified immunity protects police officers and other types of government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, allowing lawsuits only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.
Police use of force has been closely scrutinized following the May 2020 death of a Black man named George Floyd after a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck.
The US House of Representatives last Wednesday passed policing reform legislation that among other provisions would eliminate the qualified immunity defense for law enforcement. The legislation, supported by most Democrats and opposed by Republicans, faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Howse’s case was featured in a Reuters investigation into qualified immunity published in December. The investigation illustrated how the endorsement of this defense by courts has denied Black Americans recourse to justice under a law enacted 150 years ago specifically to protect them from abuses by state and local authorities in the post-Civil War years.