BATON ROUGE, La. (KLFY) — An effort to reform qualified immunity for law enforcement in Louisiana has failed in a state senate committee. This after it narrowly passed on the House floor in May.
House Bill 609 would have disqualified peace officers from their immunity when a Louisiana judge found physical force that resulted in wrongful death or physical injury unreasonable or unconstitutional. While that seemed like an obvious change to some, the majority disagreed.
“I heard that there’s going to be a lot of emotional response here today. There’s no reason for emotions. This is an occupational situation,” Dr. Michale Lee Carter, Shreveport Police Officers Association President stated.
Two arguments prevailed at Tuesday’s Louisiana State Senate Committee hearing. One side argued police need preferential immunity.
“They’re not going to stay in a job where they don’t feel someone’s got their back,” warned Darla Stegall, a mother of a police officer.
Dr. Carter asked, “What are you going to do when we go 108 officers short just in Shreveport to just two or three hundred short because they deem that this job is no longer viable for them to do in regard to their family? It’s almost laughable that you want to hold police officers personally liable because they don’t make any money.”
A handful of people on the side argued when it comes to wrongfully taking or injuring a life, even an officer of the law should be held equally responsible not just criminally but civilly too.
“We come in here, and we say that we are friends and we say that love each other and we want to work together, but I’m sorry. You can’t love me and be for my oppression,” stated District 29 State Representative Edward Jordan (D) who wrote the bill.
Jordan and Mike Ranatza, Executive Director of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, said because the bill only applies after peace officers are found guilty of unconstitutional use of force, it should not affect their discretion.
District 10 State Representative Kirk Talbot (R) asked, “Mr. Ranatza, you’re a police officer. Do you think it would take away your ability to make a split-second decision?”
Ranatza replied, “No sir. We would not be in favor, we the sheriff’s association would not be in favor of anything that would take that discretion away.”
However, Kevan Goodwin with the Shreveport Police Officers Association disagreed and said, “This would definitely change the way we police. If every officer goes to a call, which I’m still riding in a patrol car, they have that in the back of their mind. Am I going to be protected? Are they going to try and get my home from my family and my children?”
While some argued that change in policing would force costly insurance and an exodus of officers, civil rights advocates, like Lafayette’s Devon Norman, President of The Village 337, stated change is exactly what’s needed.
“There is so much set in place to actually protect police officers from the job they were designed to do,” said Norman. “We will continue to make as much noise as possible for reform in this state, and I pray and hope God will continue to convict your hearts to do the same.”
The bill failed in committee on party lines with Democrat Senators Joseph Bouie Jr. and Gregory Tarver in favor and Republican Senator Cameron Henry, Ronnie Johns, Mike Reese. Kirk Talbot against.
After the vote, The Village 337 President Devon Norman released this statement.
“After sitting through hours of testimony to various bills being heard today, I am disappointed by the results of today’s meetings, however, not surprised. I discovered on today that as we carry on with our lives, in Baton Rouge there is legislation being made and passed that is not only indirectly racist, but some are still very directly racist. While this bill didn’t go far enough, it would have been a start in the right direction. I urge the citizens of Lafayette and everywhere else in Louisiana to get involved and implore your legislators to do the right thing and do away with laws that protect police from liability for their actions.”Devon Norman, The Village 337 President