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Police Officer's Qualified Immunity From Suit Based on Reasonableness of Actions

NCJ Number
Crime to Court, Police Officer's Handbook Dated: (June 1995) Pages: 1-12
J C Coleman
Date Published
12 pages
This handbook analyzes a case involving a police officer's qualified immunity from lawsuit and assesses the police officer's reasonableness of actions.
The case involved a couple in a bar who got into an argument. They left the bar, continued arguing, and the wife stopped the car and began to walk home on a major interstate. While walking, she became distressed and called the police for help. The police officer escorted the wife to her home where he found the husband sitting in his parked car with the door open. The husband had in his possession an antitheft device known as the "Club." The husband appeared to be intoxicated and verbally assaulted the police officer, whereupon the husband was arrested for public intoxication. The wife objected to and interfered with the husband's arrest, and she was also arrested. The couple continued to argue at the police station, and the husband kicked the wife in the face. The husband was then formally charged with assault which was later changed to retaliation. The husband sued the police officer for false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and violation of his civil rights. The police officer filed a motion for summary judgment asserting qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields government officials performing discretionary functions from liability unless their conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of the individual. In lawsuits alleging illegal arrest, the qualified immunity determination rests on whether a reasonable police officer believes an arrest is lawful. The court determined that the police officer acted reasonably in arresting the husband for public intoxication given the cumulative circumstances surrounding the arrest, and the lawsuit against the police officer was dismissed.