What is qualified immunity and how has it impacted Central Florida law enforcement?

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects government officials from civil suits

ORLANDO, Fla. – In July 2012, a Lake County deputy shot and killed 26-year-old Andrew Scott in his home after deputies knocked on the wrong door while looking for a suspect in Scott’s apartment complex.

Scott’s family later filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit, but the court granted qualified immunity for both the deputy and the department and the case was dismissed.

The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to review the case.

LeRoy Pernell is a professor at Florida A&M University’s college of law.

"If we're going to do anything for example about police violence, there has to be consequences," Pernell said.

"When you have qualified immunity or any type of immunity from civil liability, you really are taking away the legal consequences for that act," Pernell said.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects government officials, including law enforcement officers, from civil suits when they are acting in the line of duty.

Critics say it gives law enforcement officers too much protection.

"It sort of gives carte blanche for police officers to engage in bad conduct."

Adam Krudo is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 25, which represents Orlando police officers.

“Qualified immunity--it’s not guaranteed a 100% of the time for every officer,” Krudo said. “I’ve been at OPD for 16 years, we’ve had three cases here where officers acted outside the scope of their duties and they did not have qualified immunity. They were sued civilly.”

One of those cases was Officer William Escobar who was caught on camera in 2014 punching kicking and dragging a handcuffed suspect who had already been pepper-sprayed.

Escobar was charged criminally with battery and filing a false report, but a jury acquitted him.

He was not granted qualified immunity and was later found guilty of violating the civil rights of the man he punched and ordered to pay more than $100,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.

"I think the system that's currently in place, I think it works," Krudo said.

“I don’t see reform going nearly as far as it should go as long as qualified immunity continues to exist,” Pernell said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.