Colorado Bill Ending Qualified Immunity, Banning Chokeholds Signed Into Law

June 19, 2020 Updated: June 20, 2020

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday signed a bill into law that ends qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds, and requires all officers who interact with the public to wear body cameras.

The bill, S.B. 217, was driven by recent demonstrations sparked by the death last month of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis policy custody.

“This is a meaningful, substantial reform bill,” Polis said at the State Capitol just before signing it.

Colorodans need to recognize that police officers do important work on a daily basis but officers need to understand that “the status quo is unsustainable,” the Democrat said.

“By facing the cold hard truth about the unequal treatment of black Americans and communities of color, we can and we will create real change that will materially improve the lives of countless Americans, of this generation and future generations, and we can bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice,” he added later.

Qualified immunity is not a defense to a civil action brought by a person who feels their constitutional rights are infringed upon by an officer, according to the legislation. Local agencies are required to indemnify employees for such a claim unless the employer determines the officer didn’t act upon “good faith and reasonable belief that the action was lawful.”

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Police officers walk through a cloud of tear gas as they try to disperse people protesting against the death of George Floyd in front of the Colorado State Capitol, in Denver, Colo., on May 30, 2020, amid nationwide protests and riots. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

In that case, the officer would be personally liable for 5 percent of the judgment or $25,000, whichever is less.

The bill (pdf) also creates new standards of force, including the requirement that officers not use deadly force to apprehend a person who is suspected of only a minor or nonviolent offense. It also states that officers need to have a legal basis when making contact with a member of the public and, after making contact, they report the “perceived demographic information” of the person along with other information.

State Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said that with the passage of bill Colorado was leading the country at an important period of time in the nation’s history.

“Enough is enough. We need actions,” he told reporters, saying the bill would bring about greater transparency and integrity to law enforcement.

State Rep. Leslie Hood, also a Democrat, said that “law enforcement, for too long, has been able to target communities of color, without retribution, without accountability.”

The bill doesn’t “legislate hate out of someone’s heart,” but it is a big step in the right direction, she added later.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski said the new legislation “does present challenges for us, such as deciphering contradictory language about when provisions are to take effect and logistically collecting data without an effective technological system.”

“While we will overcome those hurdles, we are proud to say that many of the new requirements set forth by law have already been our standard procedure for years,” he said in an email to The Epoch Times.

The department is reviewing the bill and drafting policy revisions to make sure its in line with the new law.

A Denver Police Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times that it’s working with the city’s attorney’s office to evaluate changes the department will be making to comply with the law, which it supports.

The department made a number of changes since Floyd’s death, including making all police officers complete mandatory classes on cultural diversity and advanced skills classes on de-escalation. The department also banned the use of chokeholds.

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