Arlington, Virginia—Will the law enforcement officers who mercilessly beat James King—an innocent college student—be held accountable for their actions? Or will they be allowed to continue to hide behind special legal protections afforded to members of state/federal police task forces to escape justice? Last Friday, the Institute for Justice (IJ), which represents King, filed a brief on his behalf asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and end the shell game that protects task force members from accountability. The brief is the last document to be filed before the Court considers whether to take James’ case next month.
In 2014, James was beaten and choked unconscious by members of a joint state/federal police task force in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after they misidentified him as a suspect wanted for a non-violent petty crime. After their brutal mistake, the officers arrested and charged King with several felonies to cover their tracks. Since then, the government has done all it can to shield the officers from accountability. In its latest move, the government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to create a new type of immunity for the officers.
But James is fighting back.
Teaming up with IJ, James has not only opposed the new protection requested by the government, but he has separately asked the U.S. Supreme Court to end the shell game that protects task force members from accountability.
Over the past several decades, the use of task forces has expanded nationwide. Today there are about 1,000 operating in all 50 states. When members of these task forces violate the law, they often avoid accountability by hiding behind shifting state and federal protections. This allows them to claim immunity from prosecution under either state or federal law, with no predictable standard, thus making it nearly impossible for someone whose constitutional rights were violated—such as James King—to hold members of these tasks forces accountable.
“Because task force members exercise both state and federal power,” explained IJ Attorney Anya Bidwell, “courts have allowed them to pick and choose which laws apply to them and which laws don’t. But more power should come with more, not less, responsibility.”
“Government officials like the officers who beat James take an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Supreme Court should make sure they do,” added IJ Attorney Patrick Jaicomo.
James’ case is part of IJ’s new Project on Immunity and Accountability, which seeks to ensure that the Constitution is not a suggestion and that its promises of property rights, free speech, due process and other rights are actually upheld.
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205. More information on the case is available at: https://ij.org/case/brownback-v-king/.]