SCOTUS to Consider Immunity of Police on Joint State-Federal Task Forces in Bungled Sex-Trafficking Prosecution

Later this month, the Supreme Court will consider a case arising from a botched sex trafficking investigation into whether state and local police officers enjoy immunity from trial when they are represented nationwide as members of joint state task forces.

Three young women, including Ifrah Yassin, are suing the Saint Paul, Minnesota Police Department, claiming their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled against her last July.

The petition in Yassin v. Weyker, File 22-533, is scheduled to be examined by judges on February 17.

The case dates back to 2010, when Saint-Paul officer Heather Weyker claimed to have nabbed members of a child sex trafficking ring that allegedly spanned four states. According to a New York Times summary, 30 people, almost all refugees from Somalia, have been sentenced to prison terms.

The trial judge later ruled that Weyker misrepresented or fabricated facts and lied before a grand jury and at a detention hearing. Somehow, three young women got caught up in the investigation. They said in court filings that Weyker had arrested them on false charges. One of them, then high school student Hamdi Mohamud, said the officer “took my life”.

“If a federal law enforcement officer lies, tampers with witnesses, and falsifies evidence, should the officer be liable for damages?” asked the 8th Circle rhetorically before ruling in the officer’s favour.

Over 20 civil lawsuits have reportedly been filed against Weyker. Several of the lawsuits were dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity, a rule invented by the courts that protects law enforcement officials from individual liability unless the person has violated a clearly stated right.

Weyker “fabricated a crime ring and single-handedly ruined the lives of dozens of people whom she sent to federal prison for what a federal appeals court called ‘lies and manipulation,'” according to the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public interest law firm, representing lead plaintiff Yassin.

Although qualified immunity claims against police officers have generally not fared well in court, this case adds a notch to the complexity.

That’s because Weyker was protected by two layers of government immunity. As a police officer, she was protected by state law. Since she was delegated as a federal officer to work in a joint state-federal task force, she also enjoyed federal immunity.

Although members of Joint Task Forces operate under both state and federal law, courts compel would-be plaintiffs whose rights have been violated to assert their claims against Joint Task Force members under the more restrictive statutes governing liability for federal officers.

“In practice, this means individuals have no recourse against emergency responders because courts now grant federal officers de facto federal immunity,” IJ said.

Patrick Jaicomo, senior attorney for the Institute of Justice, said Weyker is working with the FBI and has been temporarily installed as U.S. special marshal.

“For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, because much of this litigation was held up, Heather Weyker, with a few witnesses she trained, set up a wide-ranging sex trafficking ring of Somali refugees and eventually convinced federal prosecutors in Tennessee” to move the case forward , the attorney told The Epoch Times in an interview.

In the end, every single person charged in the alleged crime ring was “either dismissed from the charges or acquitted of those charges, which is remarkable because the [U.S. Department of Justice’s] The conviction rate is over 99 percent,” he said.

The courts found that Weyker’s actions were not protected by qualified immunity “because any reasonable official would know that you cannot lie when arresting someone to protect a sham investigation,” Jaicomo said.

The courts also found that Weyker could not be sued because she worked on the joint state-federal task force, the attorney said.

Unless the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts, “None of the people wronged by Weyker in the investigation into the sex trafficking ring, or Ifrah and her two friends, will receive any sort of accountability from Heather Weyker.” She was never charged with a crime. She’s still working and making six figures as a police officer in Saint Paul,” he said.

A known criminal defendant who spent four years in an Italian prison after being convicted of murdering an exchange student but was later exonerated and returned to the United States in 2015 weighed the case and filed a friend-briefing of the Court asking the Supreme Court to accept Yassin’s appeal.

Amanda Knox was personally hurt “when she was wrongly accused of murder while studying abroad in Italy. At the time, those in the United States who believed in Amanda’s innocence insisted that the injustices Amanda suffered were a consequence of the Italian system and that such abuses would never happen here,” the brief (pdf) reads.

“But as the case of Ifrah Yassin shows, that’s just not true.”

“We in the United States are not exempt from government abuse; We are not immune to disqualification. On the contrary, the case of Ifrah shows that it is government officials who are immune from the responsibility for complying with the requirements of the constitution,” the brief said.

“By sanctioning another avenue for government officials to evade liability — through simple mutual representation in federal law enforcement agencies,” various federal appeals courts have “eroded constitutional protections and put every citizen in their jurisdiction at greater risk.”

The Epoch Times has contacted the Saint Paul Police Department and the US Department of Justice for comment on this article.

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