Andrew Scott and his girlfriend were playing video games in their Florida apartment late at night when they heard a loud banging at the front door. Scott, who was understandably disturbed, retrieved the handgun that he lawfully owned, then opened the door with the gun pointed safely down. Outside, he saw a shadowy figure holding a pistol. He began to retreat inside and close the door when the figure fired six shots without warning, three of which hit Scott, killing him. Scott hadn’t fired a single bullet or even lifted his firearm.
The figure outside was Deputy Richard Sylvester. He failed to identify himself as a law enforcement officer at any point. He had no warrant and no reason to suspect that Scott or his girlfriend had committed a crime. He did not attempt to engage with Scott at all after he opened the door; he simply shot him dead. And on Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that Scott’s parents and girlfriend cannot sue Sylvester because the officer’s conduct was not “clearly” illegal.
The court’s reasoning? Qualified immunity, a constitutionally dubious doctrine that bars individuals from suing the government for violating their rights unless those rights were “clearly established.” And what, exactly, constitutes a “clearly established” right? It’s almost always possible to argue the point either way. Consider the events that led up to Scott’s killing. Sylvester had been pursuing a speeding motorcyclist who, he suspected, might be the same motorcyclist who’d recently committed armed assault and battery. (He had no legitimate reason to suspect this particular motorcyclist was the suspect in question.) Sylvester found a motorcycle at Scott’s apartment complex and decided it was the one he was looking for, even though a license plate search revealed no incriminating information. He and three other officers drew their guns and pounded on Scott’s door. When Scott opened it, Sylvester shot and killed him.
Being a cop is a license to kill. It’s no wonder that the profession attracts so many thugs and racists.