Here’s how cops, judges & prosecutors get away with murdering innocent people
When the Civil Rights Act of 1871 passed, it was enacted to provide newly freed African American slaves a remedy to sue when government workers violated their rights under 42 USC Section 1983.
But when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued the Qualified Immunity doctrine in 1967, it limited the effectiveness of the law not only for freed African American slaves and their descendants but all Americans. “Because of the gross and unfettered manipulation of the qualified immunity doctrine, 42 USC Section 1983 is a dead letter today and citizens, regardless of race, no longer have an effective way to obtain redress from the government when their rights are violated,” said Joshua Windham, an attorney with the Institute of Justice in Arlington, Virginia.
The qualified immunity doctrine prevents public officials, such as judges, police officers and prosecutors, from being sued frivolously for acting on their jobs as authorized by law. “The doctrine created an incentive for public officials to take less care than they otherwise would,” said Mr. Windham.
Further complicating the rights of the average American citizen to seek redress through the Courts was the 1978 SCOTUS decision in Stump v. Sparkman, which established absolute immunity for Judges stating that:
“A Judge is absolutely immune from liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors.”
Fast forward some 149 years after the 1871 Civil Rights Act. Plaintiffs have tried to navigate around qualified and absolute immunity but they have faced an uphill battle. Below are just a handlful of lawsuits against public officials, which have been filed or adjudicated in recent years:
Florida. Plaintiff Lesa Maria Martino sued Darryl Manning, Circuit Court Judge for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, alleging that he violated her rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments by granting summary judgment against her in a defamation action. According to Martino, the summary judgment motion was fatally flawed because it cited a deposition that never took place, relied on unverifiable law enforcement reports and sought to interfere with an ongoing probate court case.
Judge Mary S. Scrivens issued a dismissal on February 18, 2020, stating:
“The Eleventh Amendment bars Martino’s claims to the extent they are brought against Judge Manning in his official capacity. In any event, the Complaint is due to be dismissed in its entirety because Judge Manning is entitled to absolute judicial immunity for his rulings in the defamation action.”
Texas. Sherry Johnston sued Harris County Probate Judge Christine Butts in 2016, alleging that her elderly mother Willie Jo Mills suffered broken bones and a rapid, preventable decline, which contributed to malnutrition and her 2014 death when she was a ward of the state of Texas residing in a care center under guardianship. Johnston argued that Texas Estates Code, § 1201.003, provides a cause of action to any person who is damaged by a probate judge’s gross neglect. However, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, on the bench for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, issued a dismissal on March 14, 2019, stating in her Memorandum and Opinion:
“Based on the record, the court has not found, nor has Johnston identified, evidence supporting any inference that Judge Butts acted with gross neglect in performing her duties.”
Idaho. Even though Plaintiff Shaniz West gave police officers the keys to her home along with consent to gain entry to arrest her live-in ex-boyfriend, they bombarded her house with tear gas grenades using sawed off shotguns. As a result, the personal belongings of Ms. West and her children were saturated with tear gas residue, debris from the walls, ceilings and broken glass were everywhere, according to court records. The single mother was left holding the bag for expenses to restore her home with only $900 granted by the Idaho city of Caldwell, which wasn’t enough to cover the damages. So, Ms. West sued in Idaho District Court, naming police as defendants. The federal court ruled in her favor. But Circuit Judges Susan P. Graber, Marsha S. Berzon and District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower district court decision citing the qualified immunity doctrine:
“Given that Defendants thought they had permission to enter Plaintiff’s house to apprehend a dangerous, potentially armed, and suicidal felon barricaded inside, it is not obvious, in the absence of a controlling precedent, that Defendants exceeded the scope of Plaintiff’s consent by causing the tear gas canisters to enter the house in an attempt to flush Salinas out into the open. [Officers] Seevers and Winfield are, therefore, entitled to qualified immunity on this claim.”
Ohio. Dr. Mehdi Saghafi, 89, sued probate court officer Zachary Simonoff along with a construction company, 7 lawyers, a court appointed guardian and a CPA in January 2019, alleging that he had been forced to divorce his court-guardianized 85 year old wife Mrs. Fourough Bakhtiar [Saghafi] so that $8 million in marital assets could be transferred and liquidated.
A professional forensic accounting expert alleges that probate court officer Zachary Simonoff, serving as Mrs. Saghafi’s guardian of the estate, received $194,896.78 in guardian fees, according to court records.
Simonoff was appointed guardian by the Honorable Lorain County Probate Judge James T. Walther whom Dr. Saghafi alleges live across the street from each other on Hickory Hill Avenue in Lorain County.
The case is currently being litigated in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Trial by jury is set for March 16, 2021 before Judge Sherrie Miday.
Michigan. In October 2017, Attorney Bradley Geller filed a federal lawsuit naming the Michigan Supreme Court, the Michigan Attorney General, each of the state’s probate courts and all 300 professional guardians as defendants after becoming increasingly aware that the purpose of the adult guardianship system in Michigan had been altered. The suit alleges Medicaid fraud, violation of due process and of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case was dismissed on May 16, 2019 by U.S. District Judge David Lawson. On appeal, Geller presents issues that include:
“The dignity and fairness of the Court were undermined with repeated incivilities, such as untruthfulness, insults, denigration, disingenuous case citations and mischaracterization of the content of the complaint.”
Geller’s appeal is scheduled for submission to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on the briefs of the parties and the record on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
Pennsylvania. Mary Bush sued Chester County Court of Common Pleas Judge Katherine B.L. Platt last year. In her petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Ms. Bush alleges that she was targeted and harassed for some ten years by Judge Platt who reportedly unconstitutionally conscripted Ms. Bush’s aging mother to be a Ward of the State under guardianship.
After the case was dismissed, Ms. Bush appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and on February 14, 2020, Circuit Judge Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr upheld the Eastern District’s dismissal stating in his order:
“Appellee [Judge Platt] is entitled to absolute judicial immunity against Appellant’s allegations and Appellant’s allegations that Appellee [Judge Platt] was acting beyond the scope of her judicial duties were vague and conclusory.”