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Horn explains vote on police reform

SALISBURY — State Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) voted for a police reform bill last week in the state House of Representatives.

Horn was alone among northwestern Connecticut representatives, who mainly voted against the bill: Michelle Cook (D-65), Jay Case (R-63), David Wilson (R-66), Bill Simanski (R-62) and John Piscopo (R-76). Rep. Arthur O’Neill (R-69) was absent.

The bill, HB 6004, “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” passed 86-58 on Friday morning, July 25, and was sent to the state Senate.

The hot-button issue within the bill was qualified immunity for police officers. 

In an interview Monday, July 27, Horn said qualified immunity for law enforcement against lawsuits has developed over the years into a system that makes it very difficult for citizens to bring lawsuits in cases of police misconduct.

“What we did was reform qualified immunity,” she said, replacing the current system with a “good faith belief” clause.

Horn is a former attorney who has worked in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Criminal Division.

She said the bill makes it clear that no law enforcement officer will be held personally liable except in cases of egregious misconduct.

Horn said municipal and state liability insurance covers the bulk of successful civil claims against law enforcement. That gives the state and municipalities an incentive to do something about officers with a history of poor decisions. The bill also creates a new process for the state and  municipalities to address these issues earlier, before things get to the lawsuit stage.

The bill also does not go into effect until July 2021, and requires the formation of a task force within the Legislature to study the impact and cost of the bill and report back before the law goes into effect.

Asked why qualified immunity needed reform at all, Horn said there were too many examples of “egregious police misconduct that were not actionable. Therefore, issues were not addressed.”

Horn also said “this is not a ‘defund the police’ bill. It actually adds additional resources.”

Horn said residents of the 64th District, where towns do not have their own police forces and rely on the Connecticut State Police, may not see examples of police misconduct.

But municipalities elsewhere in the state have real problems with police-community interactions.

“What’s happening there is real.”

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