In Surprise Decision, California Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Be Sued Civilly After All

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By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – A decision announced late last Thursday by the California State Supreme Court declared police can be sued in civil court for misconduct during crime investigations, which overrules previous legal precedent that protected law enforcement for decades.

Civil rights attorney John Burris, who has represented more than 1,000 victims of police misconduct across the country, lauded the decision in an ABC7 News story this weekend.

“This should have a positive impact on police reform, because now the law has spoken,” Burris said. “Police should be trained and be better informed as to what their obligations are.”

In a unanimous decision, the State Supreme Court rejected Riverside County’s argument that its sheriff’s deputies “couldn’t be sued for leaving a man’s naked body lying in plain sight for eight hours while officers investigated his killing,” said the ABC7 story.

“California law protects police from being sued for any harm that happens during a prosecution process—even if the officer acted ‘maliciously and without probable cause.’ Now, the Supreme Court says police can be sued for misconduct during investigations,” said ABC7. 

“The potential for factual overlap between investigations and prosecutions does not justify treating them as one and the same,” Justice Leondra Kruger wrote in the ruling.

Kruger added the court issued a similar ruling in 1974, but a state appeals court in 1994 “adopted a broader interpretation to shield police from lawsuits stemming from conduct during investigations, and lower courts have been relying on that ruling to dismiss misconduct lawsuits against law enforcement that did not involve prosecutions.”

Riverside County sheriff’s deputies said they shot and killed a wanted felon when he opened fire at the end of a pursuit.

Jose Leon, who was shot and killed by a neighbor, was dragged (Leon’s body) behind a police vehicle, causing his pants to fall down and exposing his genitals, according to the lawsuit. 

His wife, Dora Leon, sued the county, according to news accounts, for negligence and emotional distress, charging police had left her husband’s naked body in plain view for hours. 

Lower courts dismissed the suit, ruling state law provides immunity to law enforcement officers and agencies for police conduct during investigations. But the Supreme Court reinstated Dora Leon’s lawsuit, with Kruger writing the lower courts’ decision was wrong, saying police investigations cannot be interpreted as part of the prosecution process.

Many local police departments have routinely argued that they are immune from damage claims “the moment a police officer arrives on the scene of a crime,” said Richard Antognini, a lawyer representing Leon, in an Associated Press story.

If the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the county, “it would have essentially immunized them for almost anything,” he added, noting the new ruling helps remove an obstacle for victims seeking damages from police misconduct. California laws still provide immunity to certain aspects of police investigations.

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5 thoughts on “In Surprise Decision, California Supreme Court Rules Cops Can Be Sued Civilly After All”

  1. Keith Olsen

    A decision announced late last Thursday by the California State Supreme Court declared police can be sued in civil court 

    Who in their right mind would ever want to become a cop these days.

    1. David Greenwald

      As opposed to in 1973?

      For one thing, police are well paid now, they have full benefits and pensions and can retire at age 55 and received 90 percent of their final salary or so for the rest of their lives.

      Also consider this… it’s much safer to be a cop than it was in 1970

      In 1974 there were 138 gunshot deaths for police, in 2022, it was 60. That’s less than half and doesn’t even account for the per capita rate.

      It’s far better to be a police officer now than it was in 1973.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Until recently the police used to be treated better by the public.  Now, due to democrats and their demonization of cops being a policeman is no longer considered a respected position.  Add to that they can now be sued in civil court.  Who want to be a cop anymore.

        The San Francisco Police Department is down more than 600 officers, almost 30 percent of its allotment. Phoenix needs about 500 more officers to be fully staffed. The D.C. police force is smaller than it has been in 50 years, despite troubling gun violence and carjackings, as officers leave faster than they can be replaced.

        Police departments across the country are struggling to fill their ranks, creating what many current and former officials say is a staffing emergency that threatens public safety.

        They cite an exodus of veteran officers amid new police accountability measures that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd, increased hostility from the communities they police, and criminal justice laws that seek to reduce the number of people in jail.
        https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/05/27/police-vacancies-hiring-recruiting-reform/

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s a good article, you ought to read the entire thing, not just the few lines you quoted.

          “You hear old-school cops say, ‘It’s not my job to be a social worker,’” Chief Tchida said. “Bro, that is the vast majority of your job. You’re definitely a social worker.”

          That about sums it up.

          You like Pytel, ask him, he’ll tell you the same thing. Policing has to change and change is difficult.

        2. Keith Olsen

          And now add to that a cop can be personally sued in civil court while doing his job.  Disgruntled criminals will be looking for any opportunity to open cases whether they’re legit or not.  The system will break if it’s not already broken.

          Just look at San Francisco and what progressive justice has done to that city.

          S.F. is in a ‘doom loop’.

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