This is a interesting perspective from an anonymous nurse, but definitely bears consideration…
I am a member of America’s most statistically trusted profession: nursing. I work the night shift on call position in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, covering four counties, as a hospice nurse. I go where the patient is. That means that if a patient in the inner city is in distress at 2am, that’s where I go. If a patient death occurs at midnight in a trailer park with a known meth issue, I’m off to the trailer park. I work in every weather condition and have driven over an hour in a blizzard to reach a patient. I work holidays. I work when there’s civil unrest in an area. I also work alone. I have a team that I can contact if needed for some issues, but I’m the only nurse for well over 100 patients spread out over a huge geographical area, and I have had several incidents of putting over 400 miles on my car in a single night.
I have long considered the police to be on the same team as me. I’ve been notified of patient deaths and issues by the police. I’ve had them stay with a grieving family until I could get there. I’ve had them help me lift a patient off the floor. I know that there are a lot of really good and extremely dedicated police officers in the country, and I really do appreciate their efforts. The officers that I’ve interacted with, both personally and professionally, have mostly been professionals doing a difficult job. That said, I can no longer support qualified immunity as a policy.
There are a lot of valid reasons why the policy was passed to start with. Police officers are often in dangerous and complex situations in which there is a good chance that they will have to use deadly force in a completely appropriate manner. Criminals making false claims of rights violations happens frequently. People suing for utter nonsense happens all the time, and there’s no penalty for filing a baseless lawsuit. Having officers be sued personally for acting reasonably in the course of their duties is disruptive, time consuming, and theoretically acts as a deterrent that keeps talented individuals from entering the field. On the face of it, it makes sense that qualified immunity would be extended to police officers just as much as judicial immunity and legislative immunity is granted to lawmakers and judges. At one time, I agreed that it was necessary. Given the degree to which it’s been expanded and abused, however, that time is long past.
Philip Brailsford played the world’s highest stakes game of Simon Says with the intoxicated but completely innocent Daniel Shaver, who lost the game and his life after being shot five times at short range by Brailsford. No reasonable person could consider Brailsford’s actions justified after learning the details of the case. Yet he was protected by qualified immunity from civil lawsuits. He was not arrested and charged criminally, despite the fact that his actions and words leading up to the shooting are a very clear indication of premeditated murder. Instead he enjoys an early retirement in the amount of $2,500/month in taxpayer dollars.
Michael Vickers fired his weapon at a dog that displayed no signs of aggression in an apparent attempt to kill the family dog in front of the children he had forced to lay on the ground while other officers searched for a fleeing suspect. Instead, he shot a ten year old boy fewer than 18 inches away in the knee and then forced the child to lay on the ground with a bullet in his knee for an extended period of time rather than immediately calling for medical assistance. The injury required surgery, will require ongoing physical therapy, and will very likely be a source of lifelong pain for the child. Vickers was protected by qualified immunity from civil lawsuits and he was not arrested and charged with any of the myriad crimes that apply to recklessly shooting an unarmed and completely harmless child. Any other citizen would have been.
These cases are both horrific abuses. They’re far from the only ones. It seems that there’s thousands of them floating around. The police department or city can be sued, resulting in the taxpayers being on the hook for whatever settlement was reached or whatever judgment was awarded. This doesn’t even take money from the police department’s budget. The officers are completely protected from facing the consequences that any other person would when they violate the rights of others. They’re rarely charged, and they can’t be sued.
Compare that to my job. I am liable for criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, personally, for actions taken while on the job. Should a patient or their family ever sue me, I will have to go to court and defend myself at my own expense unless I carry malpractice insurance. Should I ever make a mistake that results in injury of a patient, I face the very real possibility of going to prison. I will almost certainly be fired and lose my licence to practice. I work long hours, often on little sleep. I frequently end up skipping meals or being so busy that I don’t have time to stop at a gas station and empty my bladder between patients. This is all standard for nurses. We work in high stress situations, which are almost always the worst days of someone’s life. We are frequently attacked and insulted by patients and/or their families and friends. We are not permitted to carry a gun for protection in hospitals or in care facilities. If we’re lucky, we may have security available to secure a patient who has gotten violent. I, personally, do not. I am entirely reliant on the good will of the communities I serve while I am out and about seeing patients. Despite all of that, we are called upon to provide the highest level of care to each and every patient. And if we fail to provide adequate care, we face very real consequences.
Consider the case of Jeff Payne, who took emergency room nurse Alex Wubbels into custody when she refused to draw blood from an unconscious patient in complete violation of the law. Let me reiterate, she was manhandled and taken into custody for refusing to break the law. The former officer in question was fired, though there is some recent indication that he will be allowed to return to work. The city reached a settlement with Ms. Wubbels, paying her with the money they extorted from taxpayers. The officer, however, was personally protected from civil liability by qualified immunity. He was not charged with false arrest, battery, or assault; all of which he clearly did commit against her. He was not charged with deprivation of rights under color of law, which he also clearly committed. Ms. Wubbels would have committed criminal battery if she had drawn that blood, and she would have been personally liable in any civil action the patient or his family wished to bring against her later.
Police officers are not required to actually know the law. This has been well established by case law, and they can enforce their own “reasonable” idea of what the law is even when they’re wrong. In far too many cases, their victims end up charged with something unrelated to the situation anyway, or ticketed, to justify the officer’s illegal intervention in their lives. This problem is rampant in cities across America. Even when the victim is released afterwards, they’ve still been arrested and had their lives disrupted for the crime of doing absolutely wrong. I am required to know every facet of my job, and be an expert in my field. It is my professional responsibility to stay abreast of the law and ignorance of the law is not a defense if I break it. This too is established by case law, and any number of people find themselves charged with and convicted of crimes without having previously known that their actions were illegal. Yet those we charge with enforcing the law are not even required to know what it is.
Even aside from the civil and criminal penalties for a mistake, my patients and their families rely on me to know what to do in their moment of crisis. They trust me to act in an ethical manner, and to put their care ahead of myself and my own interests. It is truly a privilege to be trusted so much, and I seek every day to live up to that. It is also a heavy responsibility. The trust that we place in police officers is even more important to the health of a civil society. If people stop trusting nurses, they may delay care or become even less compliant with medications and needed lifestyle changes than they currently are. When people stop trusting law enforcement, social bonds are damaged to the detriment of everyone. Police officers have a vast amount of discretion and an enormous amount of power over average citizens.
I still respect the vast majority of law enforcement officers. I appreciate the difficult job they do, the long hours they work, and the extraordinary professionalism most of them show. As I said before, we’re on the same team out there in the community. The level of abuse happening in that field is simply too high. There are too many perverse incentives and not enough accountability. Bad officers are protected and the good are marred with the lack of public trust that protection is causing. It is high time that police officers face the same personal accountability in the course of their duties that I face in the course of mine. That is the proper first step for drumming out the officers that are damaging public trust and restoring the trust that has been lost.
I have heard similar comments from PP, and others in the medical field over the years. The ‘dissatisfaction’ if you will, has increased with the militarization of the LEOs, by both professionals and John Q. Public. The sad part, in my mind, is that the few bad apples are dragging down the entire profession. Especially when you see these LEOs get their jobs back, and go right back to what they were doing before.
I also know LEOs who are dead set on weeding out the bad apples in their departments, and are constantly on the lookout for ‘attitudes’… I wish more did this.
And I sadly have to agree with the nurse, it’s time to do away with qualified immunity.
Your comments/perspectives are appreciated.