Hispanic Man Violently Beaten By Federal Agents Who Were Cleared Of Charges Due To Qualified Immunity Begs Supreme Court To Reconsider

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The Supreme Court declined to consider a case in May, Oliva v. Nivar, that would have required federal employees to be held accountable to the Constitution. As a result, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' dangerous lower court ruling will stand, leaving more than 18,000 federal police officers without any accountability for violating the Constitution.

José Oliva is a 75-year-old war veteran whose appeal was recently denied by the Supreme Court, his legal troubles began in February 2016 when he tried to attend a dental appointment at an El Paso Veterans Affairs hospital. Three VA security guards violently assaulted him, choking him and inflicting irreversible injury to his shoulder. One of the guards apparently did not like the fact that José put his identity card inside a plastic bin rather than handing it to the officer, so the three allegedly attacked as a response.

When prosecutors refused to charge the officers, José filed a federal lawsuit for violations of his constitutional rights. He took the unreasonable use of force personally as someone who had served in law enforcement for 25 years. “These officers felt like the law did not apply to them,” José told Institute for Justice in May. “I wanted to prove them wrong. Not just for me, but for all of us who live in this constitutional republic founded on the principle of government accountability.”

Eventually, the Federal Courts sided with the officers, stating that, under qualified immunity, the Federal officers cannot be charged. So Oliva petitioned the Supreme Court, who declined to hear his case. As a result, the officers who attacked him are going completely without consequence for their violent actions toward Oliva.

Now, he is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider denying justice and instead hear his case to hopefully put a limit to what is forgiven of police and federal security guards who beat people and act violently toward them. Oliva is simply asking for police to be held accountable for their actions. To him, a former member of law enforcement, police shouldn't be able to beat people and break their bones and simply return to work the next day like nothing ever happened.

Patrick Jaicomo, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, explained in a statement that "this is a good opportunity for the Supreme Court to make it clear that federal police should be at least as accountable as their state and local counterparts. If the Court doesn’t weigh in now, the problem will only get worse. Federal authority will mean absolute immunity not only in the 5th Circuit, but across the entire country."

In a recent. separate, ruling, the 5th Circuit referenced José's case to shield a Department of Homeland Security officer from the consequences after he held a man at gunpoint and arrested him because the guy was questioning the agent's son's role in an alleged drunk driving accident. Judge Don Willett remarked that federal police now “operate in something resembling a Constitution-free zone,” and observed that “[p]rivate citizens who are brutalized—even killed—by rogue federal agents will find little solace” in American courts.

"Judge Willett’s observation should put the Supreme Court on notice that it must restore accountability to our system," said Alexa Gervasi, an Attorney working for Institute for Justice. "Federal officers swear an oath to uphold the constitution, and the courts must hold them to it."

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