On Monday, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Police Commissioner Roy Minter spoke at a news conference after meeting with William Harvey's family. Mayor Johnson told the press: “I promised the family that we would conduct a thorough internal investigation to see if any rules were broken and that we would be accountable. Although I have no role in the decision-making process, I believe after my briefing that your investigation has been thorough. ”Van Johnson went on to say "I don't think the officers involved had any malicious intent, but the result was fatal. And for that, I think the dismissal decision is appropriate."
Minter told the press that a body camera video of an officer interacting with Harvey that night revealed that Harvey was in an "unstable state". Johnson explained, “Instead of taking him to a hospital, they chained him to a wall while two police officers were standing outside. We think that this is a conscious indifference to his condition and increases to negligence. "
The Harvey family is represented by attorneys Mawuli Mel Davis and Francys Johnson. Johnson told the press, “It's a tough day. It's a tough day for the city of Savannah for those who turn to the Savannah Police Department to serve and protect, and it's a tough day for the Harvey family. "
Francys Johnson told the Washington Post: "Our next step is to hold the officials responsible for their criminal negligence and hold the city accountable. It's not just that [Harvey] committed suicide, it's whether the city was deliberately indifferent to his condition in custody. ”Davis told USA Today that once the case will be handed over to the Chatham County District Attorney and a decision has been made in relation to criminal matters Officials liability, this may dictate the family's next steps.
Having only so much influence on the future, Johnson told reporters that he hoped this layoff wasn't simply a cost-cutting move: “Dismissing officials is a positive step, but paradoxically, it is often used to minimize the risk to the community in these cases. We hope that our city will not hide behind qualified immunity and fail to appreciate the actions of these officials. ”Qualified immunity has long been recognized as one of the main legal obstacles that advocates of police reform and defunding have worked to overcome .
In 1967 the Supreme Court made an exception to the "qualified immunity" that helps government officials: they could not be sued if they acted in good faith and did not know their actions were illegal. Over the years the court has expanded this doctrine to protect police officers who knowingly violate a person's rights – unless a court ruled their conduct unconstitutional in a previous case under almost identical circumstances.
For example, last year a federal appeals court found that a police officer who accidentally shot a ten-year-old while aiming at the family dog was protected from liability under qualified immunity. The judges ruled that he cannot be held responsible as there has not been a previous case in which an officer was found guilty under almost identical circumstances.
As of now, Colorado is the only state that "legally restricts the use of qualified immunity as a state-level defense in law enforcement cases." Connecticut has "state civil action for individuals to seek recourse if an officer withholds from them or a group of individuals the same protection or the privileges and immunities of state law." However, Connecticut law does not specifically address "qualified immunity" like Colorado law.
William Harvey's son, Michael, vowed "not to stop until we have answered all of our questions". Harvey's mother tearfully told the press, "As for me, I'll never get justice until I see my son again." She is fighting cancer and her son was, among other things, her carer. "He's not just a 60-year-old man, he was my child. As long as I live, he's my child."