© 2022 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Legislative Committee Debates Whether To Remove Qualified Immunity For Maine Police Officers

Capitol Breach Demonstrations
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
A Capitol Police officer patrols the State House grounds, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Augusta, Maine.

Members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee are considering legislation that would abolish qualified immunity for police officers in Maine.

Supporters of the legislation say police have abused qualified immunity and used it to shield themselves from accountability for the abuse of their power as law enforcement officers.

“In plain English, this bill will allow people who have their civil rights violated by the unlawful actions of law enforcement to pursue a civil rights claim in superior court,” says independent Rep. Jefferey Evangelos of Friendship, who sponsored one of the bills.

Maine’s law enforcement community turned out in opposition, arguing that elimination of the targeted immunity provision would leave officers worried about personal lawsuits as they make difficult decisions in the line of duty.

Maj. Brian Scott of the Maine State Police testified that even the consideration of the bill is causing recruitment problems for police agencies. The 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively protects state and local officials, including police officers, from personal liability unless they are determined to have violated what the court defines as an individual's "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights."

“Some proponents seem to think that the term qualified immunity means absolute immunity, but that could not be farther from the truth. Rogue officers who aim to cause harm and commit atrocious acts are not protected by qualified immunity. No one, and I mean no one, dislikes a bad cop more than a good one. They have no business in our profession. They should be fired,” Scott says.