Protecting Those Who Protect Us

It could be a gang battle in a prison yard and correction officers have to restore order. Or maybe it’s a domestic violence call and the responding officers hear screams as they arrive and determine they need to get into the home fast.

All too often people who protect the public need to use some level of permissible force to do the job society asks them to do. The irony is, sometimes those legitimate actions can put the officers in jeopardy.

“There are times when a police officer is sued for civil rights violations after making a lawful arrest. Or a correction officer gets charged with assault after striking an inmate to break up a fight,” said Jim Lamond, senior partner at MLC. “The people who we ask to go into dangerous situations need to know we’ve got their back.”

Advocating on behalf of a police sergeant, Jim would fight and win a Massachusetts Superior Court case that changed the way administrative investigations are done. The results guarantee the rights of public employees not to incriminate themselves simply by being honest about doing their job.

Historically in these cases, police officers (or other public employees) would be called into the office by their superiors and told if they didn’t answer the questions it would be considered insubordination and they may lose their job. “Often employers demanded answers, claiming the employee was ‘immunized from prosecution,’ when it was far from clear that was true,” Jim said. “The stakes for being wrong on that point were too high. People should not be forced to compromise their liberty or their livelihood.”

So, Jim designed a process to establish an ironclad grant of immunity, with all relevant District Attorneys signing a promise not to prosecute, before the public employee could be compelled to answer questions. The court agreed and that process is now standard procedure across Massachusetts.

“There is a misconception that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is a haven for the guilty,” Jim said. “Actually, the right is for the innocent, and now this case has given public employees peace of mind that the right has meaning for them in these situations.”