After being rejected by Ohio Attorney General (AG) Dave Yost on its first attempt to win approval of its amendment’s summary, the Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity (OCEQI) will resubmit signatures on February 23. Having the AG’s office approve an amendment’s summary is the first significant hurdle needed to amend the Ohio Constitution, and for this case, to end qualified immunity in the state.

Back in December, the OCEQI submitted the 2,000 signatures needed to approve the summary of the proposed amendment – “The Ohio Civil Liberties Restoration Act.” But AG Yost rejected the amendment’s summary, stating, “the summary does not properly advise a potential signer of the proposed amended statute’s character and limitations.” AG Yost also stated the title of the summary is “misleading”.

OCEQI’s Cynthia Brown of Columbus – who lost a nephew to Columbus police – believes the only way to change the behavior of the police is to change policy.

“In my expert opinion, the title, the ‘Ohio Civil Liberties Restoration Act’ was not misleading,” said Brown. “Ohioans are smart enough to realize that government officials, public servants and law enforcement agencies, violate our civil liberties and individual rights daily without any consequences, accountability and transparency.”

Qualified Immunity is a legal loophole that makes it almost impossible to sue government officials and politicians when constitutional rights are violated. The doctrine was established by the US Supreme Court in 1967 and it shields government officials, including law enforcement officers, from being held personally liable for civil damages as long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. This means that even if a police officer violates someone’s constitutional rights, they may not be held liable if the law on that specific issue was not clearly established at the time of the violation.

The existence of qualified immunity has led to a lack of accountability for law enforcement officers and has hindered the ability for citizens to seek justice for the misconduct of rogue officers.

Ending qualified immunity would ensure that government officials, including law enforcement officers, are held accountable for their actions. It would also promote transparency and accountability within law enforcement and would give victims of misconduct the ability to seek justice.

“Under our proposed amendment, the proper defendant would be the government employer, not the government employee,” said Brown. “If a person wins their case against the government, then the government would be required to take ‘reasonable measures’ to prevent a similar rights violation from occurring.”

If OCEQI’s summary is approved by AG Yost, the Ohio Ballot Board determines whether the proposal contains a single law or multiple laws. If the board certifies the petition, the group must collect signatures from at least 3 percent of registered voters based on the ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election.

Those signatures must come from at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties, and in each of those counties, the number must be at least 1.5 percent of the vote cast in the last gubernatorial election.

The petition then must be signed by the Secretary of State at least 10 days before the beginning of any General Assembly session, and the Secretary of State will send the petition to the General Assembly, which then has four months to act.

Late last year, the Ohio House advanced a proposal which would require a 60 percent voter approval for any citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to pass.

Thus it could become harder to pass a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, which is no surprise coming from the GOP-besieged Statehouse.

Ending qualified immunity is being advocated in many states, and in December, the Nevada Supreme Court essentially ended qualified immunity in Nevada.

“To put this in perspective,” says Brown, “before Dec 29th, 2022, in Nevada, if you had been assaulted by a police officer, your child assaulted by a teacher, or any public worker violated your rights, you most likely wouldn’t have been successful in a lawsuit. Now because of this decision you can.”