ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Gov. Susana Martinez’s proposal to grant broader immunity to police in use-of-force lawsuits is being met with criticism from attorneys and others on both sides of the debate.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that Martinez plans to push for a measure during the upcoming legislative session that would provide somewhat of a legal shield for law enforcement officers sued for actions in the line of duty when they had followed their training.
She said she doesn’t think officers should be under a “constant threat of lawsuits.” Martinez, a Republican, is a former prosecutor.
Albuquerque has reached settlements in a string of wrongful death and excessive force lawsuits filed in recent years. The city also is under federal court order to reform its police department after a U.S. Justice Department investigation four years ago found a “culture of aggression” among officers.
Randi McGinn, who has litigated lawsuits brought against police, was the special prosecutor who tried two Albuquerque officers in the 2014 shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd. The officers’ 2016 trial ended in a hung jury, and the second-degree charges against them were later cleared by a new prosecutor who decided not to retry them.
McGinn called the governor’s proposed legislation, which had yet to be filed Thursday, an attempt to score political points. She said police officers have qualified immunity in federal court.
Damages against them are also capped in state courts, she said.
Luis Robles, an attorney who represented one of the officers in the Boyd case and whose firm often defends officers in civil lawsuits, said the governor’s approach to defending officers wouldn’t work.
“You can’t be trained to use force unconstitutionally and then get a pass because you did what your bad training taught you to do,” he told the newspaper. “I understand what (the governor) wants and I can sort of support her goal. I can’t support the way she’s going about it, because it’s not going to work.”
The Albuquerque police union’s president said he supports the concept of the governor’s proposal.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s public policy director said it was a move in the wrong direction.