INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana U.S. Senator Mike Braun is pushing to scale back some police protections known as qualified immunity, which was granted to law enforcement to defend them while acting in good faith.
However, Sen. Braun said the immunity has been abused, and he wants to reform the doctrine, though he clarified late in the week that he was not intending to do away with qualified immunity altogether.
In his press release, Braun pointed to two real life instances to explain why he thinks the current qualified immunity system isn’t working. One of those examples included police breaking the collarbone of an unarmed woman and the other was related to police releasing a K-9 on a person who surrendered.
His proposal for reform requires police to prove there was a statute or court case in the relevant jurisdiction showing conduct was authorized.
“Unless there is a law, federal or state, or a court ruling that would make legal whatever an officer might do, that is your immunity, so to speak,” explained Braun. “If it goes beyond that, then the organization and the individual officer would have some accountability.”
Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police President William Owensby said qualified immunity does not protect police from being punished for wrongdoing.
“It does not prevent them from being criminally charged, it doesn’t prevent them from being fired, it doesn’t prevent them from having their certification revoked,” said Owensby.
Instead – he said it stops against frivolous lawsuits.
“The very first thing it would prevent is ludicrous civil actions that would bog down the system to no end,” said Owensby.
Braun wants to make sure the changes don’t hurt groups like the FOP.
“We’ve got to have some type of sensible framework out there for the sake of organizations like FOP so, for all the good work that they do, they don’t get stigmatized by these bad occurrences,” said Braun.
Owensby said he has yet to hear from Braun about his proposal.
“Simply the fact that we have not had conversations with the senator does cause me concern because I don’t know where he is getting his factual basis for the reason for him writing this bill,” said Owensby. “We’re willing to sit down with anyone at any time and talk about police reform as long as the conversation involves factual basis.”
Braun calls his proposal a landing spot that he hopes will be part of Senator Tim Scott’s bill on law enforcement reform.
“This could be part of an amendment process that brings in the discussion of qualified immunity because if it isn’t we probably won’t get any Democrats voting on the motion to proceed,” said Braun.
Senator Scott’s bill is expected to be voted on in the coming days.
Indiana’s other U.S. Senator, Todd Young, is cosponsoring it. We asked him to comment on Braun’s proposal Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Young’s office said, “Qualified immunity is a very complex legal issue that merits vetting through the committee hearing process. Senator Young is cosponsoring Senator Tim Scott’s comprehensive law enforcement reform bill, the JUSTICE Act, and continues to examine additional steps that may be needed to address police reform.”
We also asked Democratic Congressman Andre Carson for his thoughts:
“For far too long, the flawed practice of qualified immunity has denied justice to victims of police misconduct and brutality. I am encouraged that my fellow Hoosier recognizes the importance of fixing the problems with qualified immunity and has offered a proposal for the Senate to consider. I am a strong supporter of bipartisan provisions in the House bill from Reps. Amash and Pressley, which I expect the House to approve this week. As the legislative process advances between the House and Senate, I am cautiously optimistic that, in this unique moment in time, we will find consensus to make real change in policing that is long overdue.”U.S. REP. ANDRE CARSON, INDIANA
In the video above, we also talk with a group of Black advocates and experts to get their thoughts on the police reform debate in Indiana and nationwide, including:
- James Wilson, Founder of Circle Up Indy
- Arnetta Scruggs, Founder & Executive Director of Bloom Project Inc.
- Derrin Slack, Founder of ProAct Indy
- Nia-Hyatt Eldosougi, Member of Black Women in Charge
The guests answered a series questions ranging from racism being declared a public health crisis in some areas to defunding IMPD, to which there were varied answers.
Wilson spoke to the need for reform saying, “There are changes needed. We keep talking about cultural changes, but it goes a little bit deeper. It’s really connecting with the community in a way that they understand how the community interacts and responds to them (officers). Therefore, you have stronger development.”
Recently both Mayor Joe Hogsett and Chief Randall Taylor have announced reforms, such as a use of force board, a chokehold ban, and a public disclosure policy after an officer-involved shooting or serious incident.
Asked if these reforms meet the demands of Black Women in Charge, who led a Statehuse sit-in, Eldosougi acknowledge the work being done.
“Yes, it actually meets about three out of the of four demands we’ve already made,” she explained. “But we’re not stopping at just that.”
As the group discussed police and legislative reform, we also asked about the root issues of racial inequality that have been discussed during these protests.
Asked about how racial inequality and calls for police reform are tied together, Slack answered, “The call for reform in the police department is not just the police department or law enforcement. I think it has to do with the systems— the criminal justice system as a whole. We need to call for reform in the legislature, in policy, and the greater economic investment in the black community, which ultimately affect our youth.”
Scruggs, whose organization also works with Black youth across the metro, agreed. Question about how lawmakers can tackle the issues protesters have raised about racial inequality and police brutality, she had several thoughts.
“I think it’s very important even from a state level that we make sure that our youth are at the table,” she said. “I think a lot of what’s been going on lately– a lot of our young people have become the leaders for the protests, the movement so I think it’s very important that we are listening to our young people.”