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The Seventh Circuit's Top 3 Qualified Immunity Decisions of 2012

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By Corey Licht, Esq. on December 28, 2012 3:41 PM

As you know, qualified immunity often shields cops who have behaved badly. This year, however, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals took big steps in reining in qualified immunity by tackling a number of cases involving bad police judgment.

Below, we've included three of the more interesting cases in which qualified immunity was denied this year.

1. Shooting Drunk Drivers with Rubber Bullets

Tamara Phillips said Waukesha, Wisconsin police officers shot her four times in the leg with an SL6 baton launcher after she disregarded orders to exit her car. Phillips sustained multiple injuries, including a six-inch wound on her ankle that required 30 stitches.

Phillips sued the officers, claiming excessive force. The police claimed they treated the incident as a "high-risk traffic stop" because police believed the car was stolen. It wasn't. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the officers weren't entitled to qualified immunity, since Phillips wasn't being aggressive, nor did she try to resist arrest. Now officers will probably think twice before using rubber bullets on a drunk driver.

2. Recording the Police

Back in May, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined enforcement of the Illinois eavesdropping law in ACLU v. Anita Alvirez. The court found that the law, which prohibited people from making audio recordings of police officers in public, "likely violates" the First Amendment.

The decision was consistent with the ruling in Gilk v. Cunniffe. In that case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that Boston officers weren't protected by qualified immunity after they arrested an attorney for recording what he believed to be an excessive use of force.

3. Releasing a Bipolar Woman in a Dangerous Area

Christina Eilman was arrested while she was having a bipolar breakdown outside of Chicago's Midway Airport. Instead of placing Eilman in a hospital for psychological evaluation, however, Chicago police released her near one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. Eilman subsequently wandered into a high rise where she was sexually assaulted and fell from a seventh-story window. The fall rendered her permanently mentally and physically disabled.

Eilman's mother filed a personal injury suit against the city and the officers, but the officers argued they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the officers' argument, finding that Eilmen had a right to medical care while in custody, and that the police gratuitously placed Eilman in danger.

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