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On The Front Lines

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses To Hold Government Liable for Shootings, Violent Behavior by Off-Duty Police Equipped With Service Weapons

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court will not hold government officials liable for shootings and other violent behavior by off-duty police officers equipped with service weapons. In a joint amicus brief filed in First Midwest Bank v. City of Chicago, The Rutherford Institute and Cato Institute had asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a $44 million jury-awarded judgment that found the City of Chicago liable for contributing to a mindset in which police believed they could inflict violence, on- and off-duty, with impunity. The case arose after a drunk, off-duty police officer with a history of complaints for off-duty violence, for which he had not ever been disciplined by the Chicago Police Department, shot someone in the back of the head using his service weapon, leaving the man severely and permanently disabled.

Affiliate attorneys Robert T. Schofield and Robert S. Rosborough IV of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP assisted The Rutherford Institute and Cato Institute in calling on the Supreme Court to hold municipalities accountable for failing to discipline police for off-duty violence.

“The ramifications of that so-called ‘blue wall of silence’ that shields police from accountability for misconduct are far-reaching, giving rise to predatory behavior (sexual assaults, domestic abuse, etc.) by off-duty police officers who are rarely, if ever, disciplined,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Unless the Supreme Court stops insulating the government and its agents from being held accountable for its culture of violence, there will be no way to avoid a rise in off-duty violence, brutality and excessive force.”

In January 2010, Patrick Kelly, a drunk, off-duty Chicago police officer, began hitting his dog in the presence of a friend, Michael LaPorta. LaPorta, who’d been drinking with Kelly, intervened to prevent the off-duty cop from abusing the dog. When LaPorta then started to leave, Kelly shot him in the back of the head using his Chicago PD service weapon. LaPorta survived the shooting but suffered traumatic brain injuries which left him severely and permanently disabled. A subsequent lawsuit against the City of Chicago charged that the City was responsible for LaPorta being shot, because of the City’s failure to detect and discipline police officers for violent misconduct. Prior to the LaPorta shooting, Kelly, on the Chicago police force for almost six years, already had eighteen recorded complaints against him, including one for off-duty domestic violence, and another for an off-duty assault. Kelly had not been disciplined for any of those complaints. In finding the City liable, the jury awarded over $44 million in damages to LaPorta. However, on appeal, the federal circuit court reversed the judgment against the City, stating that none of LaPorta’s federal rights had been violated. In filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, The Rutherford Institute and Cato Institute asked that the jury’s award and judgment be reinstated against the City for failing to adequately discipline its police officers, thereby causing the off-duty police officer to think that he could shoot LaPorta with his own service weapon with impunity. The amicus brief also warned the Court against establishing a legal loophole for municipalities to avoid responsibility for dangers created by their policies and practices.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated, and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.

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