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Wed May 24, 2017, 05:52 PM

A new GOP bill would make it virtually impossible to sue the police

By Radley Balko May 24 at 3:51 PM

Keeping with the Trump administration’s law-and-order rhetoric, Republicans in the House and Senate recently introduced a bill they’re calling the Back the Blue Act of 2017. The Senate bill was introduced by John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and is co-sponsored by 15 senators, all Republicans. The identical House bill was introduced by Ted Poe (R-Tex.), and includes five co-sponsors, also all Republicans. The bill would create new federal crimes, impose federal police over the will of local officials and voters and shield police officers from virtually any civil liability, even in cases of egregious misconduct.

Let’s look first at the new federal crimes. The bill would create new federal crimes for killing, attempting to kill or conspiring to kill a state or local law enforcement officer who works for a police agency that receives federal funding. Because nearly all police agencies receive some sort of federal funding, including most local sheriff’s departments and town police, the bill basically makes it a federal crime to kill, attempt to kill or conspire to kill any police officer (as well as any judge or first responder). The bill would also allow for the federal death penalty in such cases, and it would impose limits on the ability of defendants to file habeas petitions in federal court after they’ve exhausted their appeals.

The legislation would make also it a federal crime to assault any law enforcement officer (again, using the hook of federal funding). An assault resulting in bodily harm would bring a federal mandatory minimum of between two and 10 years in prison, depending on the severity of any injuries to the officer, plus an additional 20-year mandatory minimum if a dangerous weapon was used “during and in relation to the assault.” An assault not resulting in bodily harm would carry a sentence of up to a year in prison.


While Republicans are fond of touting principles like federalism and local control over criminal-justice policy when it comes to, say, federal oversight of abusive police, this bill would let a Trump-appointed district attorney overrule local officials if he or she didn’t like the way they were handling a case involving an assault or killing of a cop. For example, a number of jurisdictions across the country have recently elected district attorneys who promise a more reform-oriented approach to law enforcement. In a few places, such as Philadelphia, Chicago and Houston, the new DAs were elected specifically after campaigning on policing issues, or in response to a past incumbent’s inattention to police abuse. If this bill passes, a U.S. attorney more sympathetic to law enforcement could thwart those efforts by, for example, charging a high-profile victim of police abuse with the new federal crime of assaulting a police officer. It wouldn’t be difficult. We’ve seen plenty of video now where a clear victim of police brutality was initially arrested and charged with battering one of the officers who beat him.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2017/05/24/a-new-gop-bill-would-make-it-virtually-impossible-to-sue-the-police/?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-d%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.a8df5507ce00

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