The Summer of 2020 saw nationwide cries for police and criminal justice reform. In the wake of the George Floyd tragedy, millions of people, including thousands of Coloradans, took to the streets to demand an increase in accountability for police officers who abuse their positions of trust and power. Unfortunately, in many cases, the police’s response to these calls, including here in Colorado, where police drew wide criticism for their use of chemical restraints against peaceful protestors, showed the need for increased accountability.
Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act
The Colorado Legislature, recognizing the need for greater accountability in policing, passed the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act in June 2020. This Act creates a private cause of action for a citizen whose constitutional rights have been infringed by a peace officer, such as the police, to sue and recover for the violations of their rights. Additionally, the Act creates a new standard regarding the use of force in an effort to limit the circumstances where an officer is permitted to use physical force, especially deadly force, and requires other peace officers to intervene against an officer who is improperly using force.
Qualified Immunity Excluded
This Act provides a state level remedy for citizens in addition to existing federal remedies. However, unlike in suits under the existing federal scheme, qualified immunity is expressly excluded from the possible defenses for officers being sued under this Act. In fact, this Act seeks to cut through much of the red tape associated with a federal suit against a peace officer, and allow a greater number of plaintiffs to actually recover for their injuries.
A suit has already been filed under this Act in Arapahoe County District Court, arising from an instance where police officers drew their firearms on four unarmed black teenagers and children after mistaking the car the citizens were in for a stolen vehicle. Hopefully, this case will lead to compensation for the victims, and pave the way for other similar suits to reaffirm the rights of citizens and increase accountability for police officers.