By Jessica Mathews & Jon King /

The effects of proposed qualified immunity reforms before Congress were the focus of an event hosted by area law enforcement officials, including Livingston County’s top cop.

A press conference was held Wednesday at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office as Congress debates changes to existing qualified immunity laws. On a mostly party-line vote, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which does away with qualified immunity. Those laws shield government officials, including police officers, from being held personally liable for damages as long as they don’t violate clearly established law. Local law enforcement leaders say the erosion of those legal protections will seriously affect their ability to carry out duties and will impact government agencies on every level.

The press conference featured various attendees including Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy, who is also the president of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association. He said that qualified immunity is not exclusively about police officers, laying out a scenario in which a road commission worker who is patching the roadway could be held liable for a drunk driver who crashed into a tree after going around the barricade. “Just think about your profession that you’re in…the job that you carry. You do everything how you’re supposed to do it according to your policies and procedures and guidelines, and there’s a bad outcome. You would be on the hook for that. You would be able to be sued civilly, and you’re dipping into your own savings account. How does that make sense, when you did everything right? That’s really what qualified immunity is if it goes away.”

Supporters of the reforms claim police misconduct would be deterred by getting rid of qualified immunity, which they say makes municipalities less likely to prosecute rogue officers.

However, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard insists the reforms are a search for a problem that doesn’t exist. He said qualified immunity protects officers who make split-second decisions within all protocols, laws, and procedures, yet may still result in a tragic outcome. Bouchard says if qualified immunity laws were to be removed, many lawsuits would proceed forward even though someone did everything right – claiming it could end up bankrupting some communities, while also negatively impacting recruiting men and women to come into law enforcement, saying they’re already seeing that trickle down.

A link to the full video of the press conference is provided.