Efforts by a handful of states to hold police accountable for brutality and civil rights violations escalate Thursday as New Mexico opens the door to lawsuits against government agencies in state courts.
New Mexico’s civil rights law removes immunity provisions that protect government agencies from financial liability related to misconduct, believing that individual officials will not pay for damages.
As a matter of law, local law enforcement agencies are preparing for a series of lawsuits that could result in liability awards of up to $ 2 million per occurrence. At least one county sheriff’s department has been privately denied Insurance coverage – highlighting concerns about potential payments.
The legislation goes far beyond police practices and applies to potential misconduct in almost all state and local government agencies that infringe on individual rights.
Lawyers also hope to use the law to tackle cruel conditions in prisons or abuse in children’s homes. They note that the New Mexico Bill of Rights goes beyond federal guarantees to prohibit discrimination based on sex.
The legislation, signed by Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in April, has been backed by an unusual coalition of progressive civil rights advocates and politically conservative supporters of greater accountability in government.
Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe oversees a force of 125 sworn officers and fears the new civil rights law will highlight the mistakes, not the solutions.
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