Indiana GOP senator’s bill would scale back qualified immunity for police

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — U.S. Sen. Mike Braun introduced a bill on Tuesday to limit qualified immunity, a controversial doctrine that protects police from civil lawsuits unless their actions violate “clearly established” law.

Reforms proposed by Braun, R-Ind., would reduce barriers for prospective plaintiffs, making it easier to hold law enforcement officers personally liable for alleged misconduct.

The “Reforming Qualified Immunity Act” would require officers to prove their conduct fell within the law in order to claim immunity.

Qualified immunity emerged as a divisive hot-button issue amid nationwide protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

House Democrats proposed eliminating qualified immunity protections for law enforcement, while Senate Republicans unveiled a bill — backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — that did not touch the qualified immunity standard created a half-century ago by the Supreme Court.

“Someone that went through what George Floyd did; his family should have the ability to — without hurdles and resistance — try to seek fair recompense for it,” Braun said Tuesday in a phone call with reporters.

He described his proposal to limit police immunity while preserving some existing protections as “sensible middle ground,” but indicated he expected push-back from police unions and fellow Republicans.

Rick Snyder, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), defended qualified immunity for law enforcement during a June 11 interview on WIBC-FM 93.1’s “Hammer and Nigel Show.”

He said FOP members looked forward to reviewing the senator’s bill but were not consulted by Braun or his office for “input on this important matter.”

“Perhaps we will have that opportunity in the coming days,” Snyder said in a statement to News 8. “In the interim, our police officers remain focused on providing safety and protection to the community we serve.”

James Wilson, founder of nonprofit organization Circle Up Indy, contacted Gov. Eric Holcomb to discuss police reforms he believed could strengthen community trust after Floyd’s death sparked international outrage.

“What needs to change?” News 8 anchor Phil Sanchez asked Wilson during an interview conducted as part of WISH-TV’s “We Stand Together” campaign.

“Laws,” Wilson responded. “The qualified immunity [doctrine] needs to go.”

When asked during Tuesday’s conference call if he had discussed Floyd’s death and calls for reform with African American constituents, Braun said he “spoke with a group of African Americans from Indianapolis that are conservatives” the previous week.

“[They] were behind this idea of making something happen with qualified immunity,” the senator said. “This is an issue that Republicans, as a rule, just generally aren’t willing to talk about. For me, it’s easy, because it seems to make so much sense that the current paradigm isn’t working.”