Published on: Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Mississippi U.S. District Court issued its opinion in Jamison v McClendon, No. 3:16-CV-595-CWR-LRA, 2020 WL 4497723 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 4, 2020)(a case which involved Clarence Jamison, a Black male driver who was pulled over by Nick McClendon, a white police officer, while driving his Mercedes convertible back to his South Carolina home after a vacation in Arizona, additional information available here. McClendon pulled Jamison over, ran Jamison's identification, confirmed his ownership of the car and, falsely told Jamison that police suspected Jamison's vehicle of containing 10 kilograms of cocaine. Jamison claimed that McClendon then asked to search his car five times despite Jamison's repeated refusals. Jamison eventually relented, and McClendon searched the car, even calling a canine unit to sniff the vehicle—the searches turned up nothing. Jamison filed a lawsuit against McClendon, claiming that he had violated Jamison's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by falsely detaining and searching him and for racially profiling him as a Black man.

The Court ruled that McClendon had flagrantly disregarded Jamison's Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully coercing Jamison to consent to the search. Yet because there is no precedent "that places the Constitutional question 'beyond debate,'" McClendon is entitled to qualified immunity. The doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects police officers from lawsuits over their behavior on the job, has received massive scrutiny in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. The District Court urged the Supreme Court to "eliminate" qualified immunity. "Over-turning qualified immunity will undoubtedly impact our society," Reeves wrote. "Yet, the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable. Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of 'separate but equal,' so too should it eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity."

"Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity," the Court wrote. "But let us not be fooled by legal jargon. Immunity is not exoneration. And the harm in this case to one man sheds light on the harm done to the nation by this manufactured doctrine."

The facts in Jamison are depressingly familiar and the decision placed Jamison's ordeal in the context of Black Americans' broader struggle for equal justice. The opinion begins with a lengthy–though non-exhaustive–and poetic recitation of the names of Black people killed in recent years by police officers who largely went unpunished.

"Clarence Jamison wasn’t jaywalking," Reeves wrote. "That was Michael Brown."

"He wasn't outside playing with a toy gun. That was 12-year-old Tamir Rice."

"He didn't look like a 'suspicious person.' That was Elijah McClain."

"He wasn't suspected of 'selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.' That was Eric Garner."

"He wasn't suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. That was George Floyd."

"He didn't look like anyone suspected of a crime. That was Philando Castile and Tony McDade."