COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity will move forward with its second attempt at a proposal for a constitutional amendment in the state.
Coalition Executive Director Kyle Pierce said the amendment they are putting forward would end qualified immunity for state workers.
“If we don’t hold the government accountable when our rights are violated, what is to stop the government from violating our rights?” Pierce said.
Qualified immunity protects government employees, like police officers, from civil suits for actions including inappropriate use of force — unless it can be clearly proven that the action was unconstitutional. But Pierce said the proposal is not just about police officers, and would stretch to all government employees, including university administrators or school teachers.
“Qualified immunity places all government officials and agents, not just law enforcement, above the law for violating our constitutional and civil rights,” Rep. Elliot Forhan (D-South Euclid) said. “It must end.”
But Matt Dole, a Republican strategist, said he believes that most people connect qualified immunity solely with police.
“If this group wants to make changes that are significant in the law, they should go to the legislature and not the constitution.”
If the initiative passes, it will only allow for lawsuits against government workplaces, not their workers. Pierce said employees would hold the right to participate in the case as third-party defendants.
“If they search someone’s car without a warrant, should that officer have to pay out, because of that? Should they be fired, because of that? Or is there something wrong with the employer not providing them the proper training,” Pierce said.
But Dole argued it gives lawyers and prosecutors opportunity to charge officers for decisions they have to make in quick succession. “And oftentimes it’s the right decision,” he said.
Dole also said that it would also limit an officer’s ability to protect communities and create a staffing issue.
But Forhan said he believes that a person can simultaneously support law enforcement and not place them above the law.
It is the second time the OCTEQI has submitted the proposal and fourth attempt overall to end qualified immunity. In December 2022, The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity tried to get language on the ballot to end qualified immunity, and Accountability Now Ohio tried twice in 2021. All three times the proposal has been denied by the Attorney General’s office. Their aim is to get the issue on the ballot by the 2024 general election.