A US federal judge in Mississippi has granted a police officer qualified immunity for damage caused to a black man’s vehicle during an extended traffic stop while calling for the Supreme Court to overturn the doctrine, a goal of Black Lives Matter protesters.
District Judge Carlton Reeves issued his opinion Tuesday, granting summary judgement to Officer Nick McClendon, a white police officer who pulled over a black man, Clarence Jamison, and subjected him to a nearly two hour long traffic stop. McClendon stated that he originally stopped Jamison because his temporary paper license plate on his newly purchased Mercedes-Benz “folded
over to where [he] couldn’t see it.” Even after background checks on Jamison and the vehicle came back clean, McClendon demanded that Jamison allow him to search the vehicle, and refused to allow Jamison to leave until he had spent nearly two hours fruitlessly searching the vehicle for contraband. Jamison filed suit under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and Section 1983, saying that McClendon violated his constitutional rights by engaging in racial discrimination, damaging his vehicle in the course of the search, and illegally extending a traffic stop far beyond the necessary time.
Judge Reeves said that his hands were effectively tied by precedent of qualified immunity, which he described as “a shield for these officers, protecting them from accountability.” While granting McClendon’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, the judge was harshly critical of the doctrine. In his introduction, he stated bluntly
But let us not be fooled by legal jargon. Immunity is not exoneration. And the harm in this case to one man sheds light on the harm done to the nation by this manufactured doctrine. As the Fourth Circuit concluded, “This has to stop.”
Reeves called on the Supreme Court, which recently refused to hear cases on whether to end qualified immunity, to end the doctrine. “Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of separate but equal,” he said, “so too should it eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.”