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Back in 2017, a 23-year-old Black man was asleep in his parked car when two officers with the Euclid police department woke him and created a reason to kill him. Qualified immunity prevents the victim’s family from receiving justice
Luke Stewart was asleep in his legally parked car on March 13, 2017, in Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland, and was posing no danger when he was approached by police officers Matthew Rhodes and Louis Catalani. USA Today details what happened next:
Catalani knocked on Luke’s window, startling him awake. They did not announce themselves as officers. Luke sat up and started the car. Catalani and Rhodes immediately opened Luke’s car doors and reached inside to forcibly remove him. Catalani grabbed Luke’s arm, and he wrapped his arm around Luke’s head and pulled, while Rhodes pushed from the passenger side.
Scared, Luke attempted to drive away, but Rhodes jumped into the passenger seat. Luke looked at Rhodes and asked, “Why are you in my car?” Rhodes attacked Luke. He punched him, stunned him with a Taser six times, then used the Taser to strike him in the head. Luke never hit back. Moments later, Rhodes shot Luke five times, killing him. Rhodes had been in the car with Luke for only about one minute before he opened fire.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Luke’s civil rights lawsuit because of qualified immunity, according to the report.
Qualified immunity protects police officers from lawsuits. It can only be used if the violation of a person’s rights has already been clearly established. USA Today writes, “The question of what is “clearly established” is constantly in flux but has generally been interpreted in a manner that protects police even when they demonstrate a lack of concern for people’s lives and safety. Unless a court has already found that a highly similar fact pattern violated the Constitution, qualified immunity will protect police from lawsuits and trial.”
Per the report, Rhodes was not disciplined by the department for his actions and he remains a police officer today.
“It’s disappointing and disheartening that the system allows Matthew Rhodes to be shielded by qualified immunity when it’s clear as day that he murdered Luke out of an act of rage and impulse,” says the victim’s sister, Terra Stewart.
Luke Stewart was killed for sleeping while Black. In this instance, one could make the argument that qualified immunity was designed to protect white cops who kill unarmed citizens of color.