Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Their names are seared into Americans’ memories, egregious examples of lethal police violence that stirred protests and prompted big payouts to the victims’ families.
But for every killing or injury that grabs national attention, there are hundreds of others that do not.
In these, police departments face far less public pressure to pay damages, and officers are even less likely to be disciplined. That leaves one option for victims or their families to seek justice: sue the cops for civil rights violations under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A new Reuters investigation, however, has found that more often than not, these last-ditch excessive force lawsuits fail to win victims any redress – all because of a little-known legal defense called qualified immunity.