The Governor of New Mexico is introducing new legislation that will protect police officers from lawsuits – granting them immunity if they kill or use excessive force on suspects.
Governor Susana Martinez’s bill would shield officers who fail to comply with police orders but would not protect officers who do not obey orders or break from training, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
“I don’t believe that police officers should be under this constant threat of lawsuits that will often cause them to pause,” Martinez recently told the Journal. “If they’re following their training, there should be something that protects them.”The bill would protect cops and citizens from the “massive payouts that taxpayers are giving crooks and thieves who are hurt or injured by police officers who are doing their job,” Martinez added.
Steven Robert Allen, the public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, told Newsweek that the governor’s proposed bill would make it even more impossible to hold officers accountable.
“Any requirement that we lay an additional immunity for police officers makes absolutely no sense,” he said. “No one is saying police officers should not be allowed to use reasonable force when their safety is in jeopardy. Excessive force is being used by police officers over and over again…and those officers are not being held accountable.”
In recent years, families have been awarded millions following the death of their loved ones in officer-involved shootings. In 2014, the family of Christopher Torres received $6 million from the city after the 27-year-old mentally ill man was shot by police in his backyard.
“If a police officer does something wrong, he should be held accountable just like the rest of us,” Torres’s father, Stephen, told the Journal.
In 2014, the Department of Justice found that the Albuquerque Police Department had a pattern of using excessive force, including against people who posed a “minor threat” and against people with mental disabilities.
“Officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat in situations where the conduct of the officers heightens the danger and contributes to the need to use force,” the report found.
Allen said the governor is operating out a playbook of using crime and public safety as a political issue in an election year.
“This is a part of a strategy to distract the public from the fact there are root causes of crime in New Mexico that are not being addressed,” he said.
Martinez released her legislative proposals to fight crime on Monday. The proposal suggested increasing penalties for crimes and reinstating the death penalty for those who kill cops.
“New Mexicans have seen officers gunned down by thugs and children killed by monsters,” Martinez said in a statement. “It is time we say enough is enough. If you kill an officer or a child, you deserve the ultimate punishment.”
Experts say that officers are rarely ever convicted for on-duty shootings. Out of 84 officers arrested on murder or manslaughter charges only 30 have received convictions.
Police officers already receive qualified immunity, which protects them from being sued by placing the onus on citizens to prove that a police officer acted unconstitutionally.
Albuquerque Police Officers Association president Shaun Willoughby told Newsweek that the police association support’s Martinez’s proposal to offer additional immunity.
“We have a huge problem with trying to fill vacancies in police departments nationwide,” Willoughby said. “This isn’t as an attractive job. Qualified immunity makes sense in the federal system. Why put yourself in this job when you have such a huge civil liability? This is an extension of that [immunity].”
Martinez’s office did not return requests for comment.