NEW YORK NOW – Democrats in the state legislature are proposing a bill to end qualified immunity for police officers in New York as a companion piece to ongoing changes to the state’s criminal justice system.
The bill would allow a person who believes their constitutional rights have been violated to take civil action against a police officer, who would no longer be able to use their job as a defense.
Assembly member Pamela Hunter, a Democrat from Syracuse who sponsors the bill, said at a press conference in Albany Monday that she’s pushing for the legislation’s passage to coincide with the anniversary of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota last year.
If the bill doesn’t pass before the end of this year’s legislative session in June, Hunter said she’ll reintroduce it when lawmakers reconvene in Albany next January.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to get it done this session, frankly. We only have a limited amount of days left,” Hunter said.
Senate Sponsor Robert Jackson, D-Manhattan, said there’s a pattern of police not being held accountable for violating a person’s rights.
“All we’re doing is asking the officials of the state of New York, in their capacity, is to serve and protect, and not harm and kill,” Jackson said.
Gertha Depas, whose son, Edson Thevenin, was killed during a police-involved encounter in Rensselaer County five years ago, also stood with lawmakers Monday to voice her support for the bill.
“Before Edson’s body could be received into the earth, Officer Randall French received immunity,” Depas said.
Thevenin’s death also drew the attention of then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who took action against then-Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove for his handling of the case.
Schneiderman’s office claimed that Abelove was in violation of an executive order that made the state Attorney General’s Office the special prosecutor in some cases of police-involved civilian deaths, and that Abelove rushed to grant immunity to the officer involved in the incident.
Depas said she’s hoping the legislation pushed Monday by Hunter and Jackson Monday will add another layer of accountability for members of law enforcement.
If passed, the measure would go into effect 30 days after it’s signed.
The bill currently sits in the Committee on Governmental Operations in the Assembly, and the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations in the Senate.