Antonio Smith wasn’t the man these cops were looking for, but as they pulled up to him alongside a lonely highway in Georgia, he was anxious for good reason. Mere moments after taking his driver’s license, Valdosta police slammed him onto the ground and broke his wrist.
Warning: this video is a tough watch.
The casual indifference with which these officers approach and subsequently grievously injure Mr. Smith is terrifying. They order him to put his hands behind his back while holding him firmly in a bear hug, then take him down anyway.
The incident is another heavy blow for the State of Georgia, which recently hit national headlines after the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks. While the injury is less severe, the new video also leaves less room for doubt compared to the frantic chase in Atlanta. Multiple officers watch with utter detachment as a compliant Smith is grappled from behind and brought down. It speaks to a mindset completely divorced from a world where actions have consequences.
Because of qualified immunity, there may not be any.
Mr. Smith has sued the officers under §1983 for excessive use of force. Cato obtained a copy of the complaint, which already anticipates that qualified immunity will be used as a defense by the officers. We agree with his attorney’s assessment that the doctrine “delays resolution of the case on the merits by engendering needless motions and pointless interlocutory appeals.” Unfortunately, it often does more than simply delay: qualified immunity is designed to deny people like Mr. Smith any relief outright.
The widely-shared video has turned up pressure for Congress to intervene by abolishing qualified immunity and restoring the means by which people like Mr. Smith can hold bad cops accountable. Let’s hope they are watching.