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Massachusetts Senate Debates Police Accountability Bill

BOSTON (AP/CBS) — The Massachusetts Senate continued debate Monday on a bill backers say would increase police accountability, in part by imposing limits on the "qualified immunity" that now shields officers from civil prosecution.

The bill would ban chokeholds and racial profiling in law enforcement, create a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Commission, and place a moratorium on facial surveillance technology.

Mike O'Brien told WBZ about an incident when he said a Boston Police officer used a chokehold on him. "I'm on the ground with my arm pinned between me and the pavement and I'm being choked out," O'Brien said. "And, when I say being choked out in a chokehold, I mean, there's no air exchange. Like, I can't talk. I can't do anything."

O'Brien settled with Boston Police after he filed a lawsuit for the 2009 incident.

The bill would also prohibit excessive use of force by law enforcement, create a duty to intervene for any officer who observes another officer using excessive force, remove evidence preservation as a reason for so-called no-knock warrants, and restrict use of crowd control tools.

Its most contentious measure would limit qualified immunity so an officer could be held civilly liable for excessive use of force. The measure has come under criticism from police unions and their supporters who argue that officers should not have to worry about potential lawsuits while on patrol.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley has defended the push to limit qualified immunity, however, calling it a "barrier to accountability."

"In any other occupation in America, there are standards of conduct and consequences for violating them — doctors can be sued for malpractice, lawyers can be sued for negligence. Policing should be no exception," Pressley said in a written statement Saturday.
Debate on the Senate bill was delayed several days by a Republican lawmaker.

Opponents of the bill, including members of Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, say scaling back qualified immunity which protects government employees from some legal claims of misconduct is unnecessary.

"In these times, it is important that we create impactful, meaningful change," said Boston Police Sgt. Eddy Chrispin. "Not change for the sake of change. We are poised and ready to be a part of the change. That change will have to get to the core of the problem, systemic racism. Let's not hyper focus on policing and miss the mark."

Another bill filed last month by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would require that police be certified in Massachusetts.

Baker's bill would allow for the decertification of officers who engage in excessive force, including chokeholds, or who fail to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force.

Massachusetts is one of only a few states without a statewide law enforcement certification program.

"I believe the principles we share in common present a rare opportunity to act quickly and concisely to create a long overdue system for certifying law enforcement officers," Baker said last week in a letter to state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat and the chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

Gonzalez cautioned last week that attempts to expand the scope of the bill in the Senate could derail it before the end of the Legislature's formal session on July 31.

The bills are a response to statewide demonstrations following the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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