STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) — A bill to end qualified immunity for police officers in Virginia was defeated in the House on Friday on a party-line vote.
The bill was revived a day after the legislation failed in a key committee earlier in the week, and Delegate John Avoli said the issue could come back up.
“They’re trying to punish Augusta County and every other jurisdiction in this state for the sins of somebody 1,000 miles away,” Tim Martin, Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said.
Right now, under qualified immunity, police officers can still be sued, but there is a level of egregiousness that needs to be met to do so, and this bill was aiming to dramatically lower that standard.
This bill would have ended qualified immunity for police officers, making it easier to sue law enforcement for violating someone’s rights.
Locally, some believe if this bill were passed, it would be detrimental for everyone.
“The risk coming out of my home every morning for me to be sued frivolously is there, and I’m going to think in the back of my mind, is this going to enhance my job or is it going to hinder me from doing my job?” Delegate for the 20th District, John Avoli said.
Martin agreed that that second-guessing could be dangerous.
“Instead of acting quickly and understanding their decisions are going to be given the benefit of the doubt... If you have law enforcement hesitating, I think that created a dangerous public safety situation,” Martin said.
However, supporters of this bill say police officers should give more thought to what they’re doing.
Martin said the legislation would also deter people from pursuing a career in law enforcement.
“You realize that based on a good faith decision you make in the heat of a dangerous situation, you could wind up in court for years and they could take everything you’ve saved,” Martin said.
Del. John Avoli said if it passed, it would also mean more taxes.
“Your taxes are going to go up because either I’m going to have to buy liability insurance above and beyond what is currently provided or your local government, another unfunded mandate will have to pick that insurance up,” Del. Avoli said.
Martin believes many legislators are more focused on getting more votes.
“All of these other bills, you realize that the General Assembly is essentially at war with the men and women in uniform. Regardless of whether the legislation is good legislation or not,” Martin said. “I have to believe they understand going issue by issue against law enforcement is not going to have a positive public safety outcome.”
Del. Avoli said he does not support this bill, but he does support providing more training for law enforcement officers.
“The more we can train people, whether it’s de-escalation techniques, psychology dealing with people with mental issues, I think, is very very important,” Del. Avoli said.
He added there are other ways to de-escalate tensions among communities and law enforcement.
“Why don’t we purchase body cameras for everyone, armor for everyone? Let’s get our salaries up to a certain point where we get the best of the best,” Del. Avoli said.
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