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Legislative committee strikes down bill to end qualified immunity for police officers

The push to end qualified immunity for police officers gained momentum after the murder of George Floyd, as well as officer-involved shootings in Maine.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted 9 to 1 Thursday against a bill that sought to remove qualified immunity for Maine police officers. 

Qualified immunity is a legal process that lets a judge decide if a public official, including a law enforcement officer, should be protected from a civil lawsuit by victims in a specific civil rights case.

The issue gained popularity during national movements for police reform following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. In Maine, cases of police-involved shootings, including the death of Jason Gora last February, ignited passion around the cause. 

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According to FBI statistics, Maine’s crime rate has been falling since 2015 and is currently the lowest in the nation by a wide margin. But like many states across the U.S., the number of police officers from 2019-2020 has also fallen by five percent due to national criticism.

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, sponsored the legislation to end qualified immunity in an effort to force officers to be more accountable for their actions.

Evangelos, whose father served as a Massachusetts State Police officer, said it is not about "defunding" the police, but about instituting change.

Maine State Troopers Association President and former Maine State Police Chief Craig Poulin said any change would ultimately make police and citizens "less safe."

"I think it would hamstring policing," Poulin told NEWS CENTER Maine in April. "I think it would hamstring public safety."

Evangelos did not immediately return a phone call Thursday afternoon.

Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, and New York have either ended qualified immunity or limited its use in court cases.