HB2328 removes citizens’ abilities to hold police officers accountable for excessive force and enables reckless officer activity
In the Oklahoma House of Representatives, a new house bill is being put forward that would increase the protection of police officers against excessive force lawsuits. House Bill 2328, created by Representatives Kevin McDugle and Josh West, could remove the ability of peace officers, like a regular citizen, to be criminally charged for excessive force . The proposed bill states that “a peace officer … is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes it to be necessary.” In addition, any reference to the policies regarding police department standards have been removed from the bill. Through this bill, the police would be protected against excessive force lawsuits unless they were arrested for a criminal act.
This is a harmful bill for the citizens of Oklahoma because it removes power away from injured citizens and incentivizes reckless behavior on the side of the police. The major problem with this new house bill is that it removes the ability of citizens to defend themselves in court against possible police violence.
In a statement to the Frontier, Tulsa excessive force attorney Spencer Bryan stated that the new change in legislation to remove any reference to the police would “mean if an officer violated policy in a violent encounter with a citizen, but was not charged criminally, the incident could not be considered excessive force.” This change would remove any citizen’s ability to seek justice for the wrongdoing of police officers. The lawmakers are trying to forcefully protect police officers and their departments from having to go to court.
This is an attempt to save the resources and credibility of the police officers involved. While police officers can still be held accountable through a court of law, it is an increasingly rare incident that a police officer would face any form of criminal charges.
In an additional statement to the Frontier, Bryan stated, “I can’t tell you a single time a DA has prosecuted someone for a policy violation. This proposed change is all about lawsuits.” This bill does not protect the rights of average citizens who are injured or killed by police officers. Rather, it seeks to shield these officers from punishment for their own actions.
We’ve already seen the type of people who will be affected by the bill, like Amanda Morrow, who was involved in a police-shooting in 2017.
Morrow was shot by Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice as a passenger in a vehicle that was purportedly attempting to pass by a police roadblock. While Prentice was cleared of any criminal charges, Morrow was able to create a civil case and settled with the district in civil court a year later. This bill would erase the possibility for compensation that people injured or even killed by the excessive force of police officers should be able to receive.
Additionally, the bill also promotes potential recklessness in police officers across Oklahoma. If an officer cannot be easily sued by any potential victims and they are unlikely to be arrested, there is no real disincentive use excessive force. Police officers should be held accountable for their actions if they do not follow policies set in place during the line of duty.
This removal of citizen power does not necessarily mean that the police will spurred on to commit more acts of excessive force. Rather, it removes the potential walls in place that prevent the spread of such force and allows officers to break through more easily.
As things currently stand, all citizens, police officer or not, must take responsibility and be ready to defend themselves in court if their actions cross over the laws of Oklahoma or the policies of their employment. By removing this essence of the law, we are creating an unfair system that gives some groups power over others that should be spread equally. House Bill 2328 helps no one except police officers, and it puts them squarely above the law.