Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said Thursday he will stop pushing his recent bill to reform qualified immunity protections for police without input from law enforcement. There are questions concerning when those talks happened, despite statements Braun made on Fox News earlier this week.
Braun announced June 23 the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, which, according to a press release, would remove “misguided protection that has been extended to those who act under the color of the law to illegally deprive citizens of the rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and our country’s laws.”
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that sets a high standard for lawsuits against individual police officers alleged to have committed unlawful conduct and requires a two-step inquiry.
Ian Millhiser of Vox wrote of existing law, “Courts must first ask whether ‘the facts alleged show the officer’s conduct violated a constitutional right.’ Then, after determining whether the defendant violated the law, the court would determine whether that defendant was nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity because the illegality of their actions was not ‘clearly established.’”
Braun’s bill aims to re-instate the original standard for qualified immunity, allowing officers to claim it when the alleged unlawful conduct had been previously authorized or required, or when a court has found that the alleged conduct was consistent with the Constitution and federal laws.
Police unions have historically opposed the elimination of qualified immunity, arguing that worry about lawsuits would hinder them from properly carrying out their duties.
“This, in turn, would cause extreme financial hardship on already underpaid public servants,” said Paul Post, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88 in Bloomington. “Want the best, most qualified, most educated police candidates to fill these jobs? You have to offer corresponding competitive wages. Provide them with the best training you can, then trust them and defend them in their performance of their given duties.”
Braun appeared Monday on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to discuss his legislation. Police unions objected to one of Braun's Statements in particular.
“I checked with the Indiana State Police, Indiana Sheriffs Association, Fraternal Order of Police - spent over an hour with them last week to make sure I wasn’t off-base,” Braun told Carlson of his support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Later in the interview, Braun added, “And even law enforcement in Indiana thinks that in some of these cases it’s giving them a bad name, and bad apples - there ought to be due process there for the victim.”
“So what law enforcement groups are endorsing your bill?” Carlson asked.
“They’re not endorsing it, but they said it was a good template to work from,” Braun replied. “They think it’s a better idea to be in the discussion than be outside of it.”
The Indiana State Police Alliance and the National Fraternal Order of Police both issued statements Tuesday disputing Braun’s comments, asserting that neither group supported the legislation.
The ISPA issues this public statement addressing qualified immunity legislation. We DO NOT, and HAVE NOT, supported Senator Braun’s current qualified immunity legislation as discussed on @TuckerCarlson at @FoxNews last evening. pic.twitter.com/AsStRx7tPr— Indiana State Police Alliance (@ispa1974) June 30, 2020
National President @PYoes sent a letter to @SenatorBraun asking that he clarify his public statements that the FOP supports his bill, S. 4036, which proposes changes to the doctrine of #QualifiedImmunity. The FOP does not support the legislation. pic.twitter.com/xtXL1Y7Rfw— National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (@GLFOP) June 30, 2020
However, Braun mentioned the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police and not the national branch. Indiana State FOP President William R. Owensby told WFIU News that conversations with Braun about the bill took place before the Fox News interview, but after the bill was unveiled.
Owensby added that Braun had again referred to the bill as a template in their talks. Even so, Owensby said talks about reforming qualified immunity are unnecessary.
“In general terms, there is no need for qualified immunity reform. I’m not referring to Sen. Braun’s legislation, I’m referring to any legislation,” Owensby said, adding that he has yet to see any legislation around qualified immunity that is “worthy of a discussion.”
When asked for comment on the ISPA and National FOP’s statements Wednesday, a Braun spokesperson emphasized the senator’s statement that the groups had not endorsed the bill. He added that Braun would be releasing a joint statement with those groups later that afternoon. That statement did not materialize.
Braun’s office released this statement Thursday: “Democrats have blocked any attempt for police reform, and I’m not going to push this bill further without input from law enforcement.”
The future of the bill is uncertain. Owensby said future conversations with Braun have not been scheduled.