This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
A court ruling has rejected a strategy by police officers accused of a policing-for-profit to claim special protection from lawsuits – called qualified immunity.
The Institute for Justice, which is representing multiple clients in a case against Brookside, Alabama, confirmed the recent ruling.
It said a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama has rejected the police officers’ “attempt to dodge accountability.”
“The court explained that the officers have not ‘provide[d] any reason for handcuffing'” a plaintiff in the case.
Further, “body camera footage flatly contradicts” their argument that they towed the car for driving under the influence of marijuana. To the contrary, the footage shows one of the officers admitting, “I don’t believe you’re going to be under the influence,” but then the officers decided to take the car because “‘the Chief’ wanted them to tow in these circumstances,” the report explained.
This part of the case charges that the Brookside officers handcuffed Brittany Coleman and had her car towed – without any justification.
When she sued, as part of a class action case, the officers claimed qualified immunity, a legal standard that states if their actions were not clearly confirmed as illegal in law, they could get by with what they did.
“The small town made national headlines this year for ticketing drivers and towing their cars to fuel a concerted policing-for-profit system that resulted in a 600% increase in revenue from fines and forfeitures,” the IJ said.
Coleman, one of four plaintiffs in the Institute for Justice’s class action, said: “Brookside’s officers had no reason to handcuff me or tow my car, and I’m relieved the judge saw that.”
She’s challenging the allegedly profit-motivated decision by officers to handcuff her on the side of a road and tow her car “without any indication that she posed a threat to the safety or that she could not safely drive away,” the IJ said.
In the officer’s comment, “the chief,” is former Brookside police chief Mike Jones, “who boasted publicly about implementing a ticketing and towing system that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the tiny town of 1,200 residents – money that went almost entirely back to the police department,” the IJ noted.
His system issued more than 3,000 tickets and towed nearly 800 cars in 2020 alone.
It’s also generated multiple lawsuits.
The IJ noted, “Under the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, Coleman was required to show that the constitutional right to be free from baseless handcuffing and towing was ‘clearly established – rights that the district court found were ‘clear’ and ‘obvious.’ With the officers’ bid to duck accountability rejected, Brittany can now proceed with her claim against them,” the IJ said.
WND reported when the case was launched that the town collected more than $610,000 in fines inside one year, “enough that officers were able to supplement their salaries, lease a mine-resistant vehicle to drive around town and obtain other military equipment.”
Officers had accused Coleman of following her boyfriend’s car too closely as they drove together to get breakfast on her birthday.
She eventually was forced to pay nearly $1,000 for towing fees and such.
Her case charges the town with violating the 14th Amendment and using trumped-up criminal citations to maximize fines and fees.
“Policing for profit preys on the vulnerable, and it subverts public trust,” explained Jaba Tsitsuashvili, the IJ lawyer on the case.
Of the additional money raised, more than $544,000 “went directly to the police,” the report said.
The IJ also is fighting similar problems that have shown up in Florida, California, New York, Wisconsin, and Georgia.