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Brownback Vs. King.

In the summer of 2014, James King was on a break from school, working two jobs. As he was walking from one job to the other, he was stopped by two men. It is here that everything starts to go wrong.

On that fateful July day, a detective with the Grand Rapids Police Department and a special agent with the FBI approached King, mistaking him for a man wanted for breaking into the home of a former employer and stealing. According to King, they didn’t identify themselves but asked him questions, then pinned him against their SUV and took his wallet. King says he thought he was being mugged and attempted to run. The two officers then attacked King and beat him unconscious.

Bystanders who watched this happen also didn’t realize that King’s attackers were police. Some called the police and others filmed. When more police arrived, they ordered bystanders to delete video of the beating (some complied).

Rather than acknowledge they mistook King for someone else, police and prosecutors instead charged him with assaulting the police officers and resisting arrest. They tried to get him to accept a plea deal but King refused, forcing a trial and risking years in prison. While he was completely acquitted by a jury in 2015, the fight bankrupted his family.

King was taken to the hospital and handcuffed to the bed.

By that point, it should have been clear that King was not the fugitive that the task force was looking for. The task force had a vague description of a white male with glasses between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 3 inches, features that would match thousands of people in the Grand Rapid area. The officers relied on a 7-year-old driver’s license photo of the suspect. The suspect was 26 and had light hair; King was 21 and had dark hair.

To us, it is important to remember that at no time did the men attacking King ever identify themselves as law enforcement or explain why they were stopping King. No wonder King reacted as he did. Who wouldn’t?

Clearly this is a case where the officers should be held accountable for their actions. This is especially true as the legal fight to keep King out of prison stemming from bogus charges bankrupted his family with legal fees.

King filed a lawsuit in 2015.

This is where the story gets even stranger.

The men officers who beat King were part of a multi-jurisdictional task force. When King went to sue the officers in state court, the officers claimed they were under federal jurisdiction. When he tried to sue them in federal court, they claimed they were under state jurisdiction. In other words, there was nowhere for King to go to get justice as the officers were literally playing “hide the jurisdiction.”

Applying these protective standards to the officers, the trial court held that James had guessed the wrong claims to bring against the officers, but even if he had not, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they could not have known that stopping, searching, beating and arresting an innocent person violated the Constitution. (emphasis ours)

Thankfully, the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in every way but one, holding that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, but that they had acted under federal authority, not state authority … .

Now, the government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and provide additional protections for the officers—immunizing them from liability under a new interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act. At the same time, James has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the government’s new arguments for immunity and end to the shell game that allows officers to violate the Constitution without consequence.

We are still having problems figuring out how a court ruled that stopping, detaining, and beating up an innocent man could not be known by the officers as being against the Constitution, but King’s reaction of fighting back against unknown and unidentified assailants was a crime.

Luckily, a higher court ruled that the officers could be held accountable.

As this case is being presented to the Supreme Court, King is being represented by the Institute for Justice.

On their case briefing page, the IJ makes this simple statement that we all should agree with:

If citizens must follow the law, the government must follow the Constitution.

Preach it brothers!



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