(CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, its police officers, and state police stemming from a white supremacist rally last summer, finding the claims made by the plaintiffs were barred by qualified immunity and legal precedent.
Plaintiff Robert Sanchez Turner, who was part of the counter-protest against the white nationalists holding the rally, had alleged the defendants failed to carry out their 14th Amendment duty “to intervene to protect a citizen from criminal conduct by third parties.”
But federal U.S. District Judge Norman Moon found there is “no clearly established constitutional right supporting any of Plaintiff’s claims” against the individually named defendants, and legal precedent foreclosed the rest.
Turner sought to hold the city and its police responsible for what he called a “state-created danger” which he said came into existence when a judge allowed the protest to take place despite the police department and city’s attempts to stop it.
He hoped to find those in charge of securing the protest, and the counter-protest, when the two sides clashed leading to injuries on both sides.
But Moon looked to legal precedent to determine “[T]he Due Process Clause generally confer[s] no affirmative right to governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government itself may not deprive the individual. …”
In his 15-page opinion released Monday, Moon says the suit could have gone forward had there been an “affirmative action” by police, however “‘affirmative acts,’ in the state-created danger context, are quite limited in scope.”
He compared the concept of an affirmative action to the state releasing prisoners who then go on to commit crimes again.
“While it is true that inaction can often be artfully recharacterized as ‘action,’ courts should resist the temptation to inject this [state-created danger] framework into omission cases by stretching the concept of ‘affirmative acts’ beyond the context of immediate interactions between the officer and the plaintiff,” Moon wrote.
And while Turner claims police acted by issuing a stand down order which allowed the two protests to violently clash, Moon finds otherwise, and instead says it was action by third parties — the protesters — which lead to the violence, and not the police.
He also pointed to court precedent which says “there is generally no duty to intervene.”
Last summer’s Unite the Right rally brought together hundreds of neo-confederate and neo-Nazi sympathizers to the rural college town of Charlottesville. The protest was eventually shut down, but fights broke out before everyone was removed from the area. Heather Heyer, a counter-protester and Charlottesville local, was struck and killed as she exited the protest. White supremacist James Alex Fields has been charged in connection with her death.
Two Virginia State Police officers were also killed that day as the helicopter they piloted to oversee the protests crashed shortly after takeoff.
Attorney David Corrigan, who represents former Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas, said in an email to Courthouse News that they had no comment on today’s opinion.
In a phone call, Mario Bernard Williams, the lawyer for Turner, said Moon is a “very good judge” and that his client understands the decision,. Nevertheless, Williams said, Turner is contemplating an appeal.