DENVER—Mario Rosales did nothing wrong but became the victim of an off-duty police officer’s road rage. Although the sheriff’s deputy was convicted of assaulting Mario, a federal district court gave the deputy “qualified immunity” and dismissed Mario’s civil rights lawsuit. The Institute for Justice (IJ), a national non-profit law firm that seeks to hold government officials accountable, appealed Mario’s case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Today the 10th Circuit reversed the lower court’s opinion and denied the officer qualified immunity, allowing Mario’s fight for justice to move forward.
“Officers who egregiously violate the constitution should not be shielded by qualified immunity,” said IJ Attorney Marie Miller. “Today’s decision upholds the rule of law and lets a good man seek justice in the courts. When officers abuse their authority by criminally assaulting people, they must be held accountable.”
In a decision from the three-judge panel, Judge Nancy Louise Mortiz wrote that: “Courts can protect officers’ ability to make reasonable split-second law-enforcement decisions when dealing with suspected violent criminals without protecting an officer who was himself the only violent criminal on the scene.”
“Deputy Bradshaw tailed me home, held me at gunpoint illegally, and was convicted for his actions,” said Mario. “I’m pleased that my case can finally move forward, and I hope that my fight for accountability will open the door for others. Badges shouldn’t protect law breakers.”
In March 2018, Mario was driving home in his yellow Mustang in Roswell, New Mexico. He passed a black Ford pickup truck, driven by off-duty Chaves County Sheriff’s Deputy David Bradshaw. Bradshaw then tailed Mario to his home and blocked him in his driveway. Mario, not knowing the person following him was an officer, exited the Mustang with his legally owned handgun displayed openly in his pocket.
Mario remained calm as Bradshaw yelled and cursed at him. The deputy then pointed his own gun at Mario even though the deputy’s toddler was seated between the two men, in the front passenger seat. Mario agreed to put his own weapon back in the car and speak to the deputy in his driveway. Another sheriff’s deputy soon arrived and convinced Bradshaw to leave.
Mario was not ticketed, and Bradshaw was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and child abuse. Chaves County fired Bradshaw and has argued that what he did was outside the bounds of his employment. Mario sued Bradshaw and the sheriff’s department for violating his constitutional rights. The suit was dismissed by a district court in November 2021.