Qualified Immunity

Cop granted immunity after false testimony causes several to spend years in federal custody

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A federal appeals court recently decided that a St. Paul, Minnesota, cop was shielded from a lawsuit that alleged she fabricated a witness tampering charge because she was working on a federal task force at the time, in a decision that further expands the already vast immunities granted to federal law enforcement.

The case at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was against officer, Heather Weyker, a cop who, in addition to the witness tampering charges, “likely” had fabricated a non-existent child sex-trafficking ring and apparently falsified testimony in court and to a grand jury, according to multiple federal court rulings and news reports. The investigation of the dubious sex-trafficking ring led to the false arrest of 30 Somali refugees, some of whom spent years in federal prison, those rulings found.

A federal district court in Tennessee ruled that “Officer Weyker likely exaggerated or fabricated important aspects of this story,” and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Weyker’s accusations were “likely a fictitious story,” according to a March 2016 opinion from the 6th Circuit. Many of the people arrested were children at the time — young immigrants, 17 to 21 years old.

With that backdrop, the July 14 decision from the 8th Circuit case brought by Ifrah Yassin, who sued Weyker over the witness tampering charges, is a dangerous extension of the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents on law enforcement powers and immunities, and makes it more likely that we’ll continue to see incidents of unjustified police abuse, especially against non-white Americans. What’s more, the ruling is especially alarming given the history of police abuse among specialized, multi-jurisdictional task forces.

The high court ruled decades ago that police have fairly broad leeway to use deception or trickery – to lie, more simply — to induce a confession and has maintained those holdings despite decades of social science research and actual data showing those methods commonly produce false confessions.

“Even if [Yassin] could establish that Weyker was lying — and we can assume that she was — it would not have changed the fact that she did so in her capacity as a federal agent, not as a St. Paul police officer,” Judge David Stras wrote for the court.

Yassin became involved only by happenstance — after she was attacked by a witness in Weyker’s investigation, according to the 8th Circuit’s opinion. The witness contacted Weyker, who intervened on the witness’ behalf. Weyker told a responding officer that Yassin was out to intimidate her witness — which wasn’t true, according to the 8th Circuit and a number of other courts. Weyker then repeated the misstatement in a federal complaint that ultimately put Yassin in federal prison for more than two years, before she was tried and acquitted, according to the 8th Circuit.

Victims have sought to hold Weyker accountable in more than 20 civil lawsuits since then, but she has beat every single case due to federal immunity.

We would like to thank Reuters for the content. Click HERE to view the entire comprehensive article.

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