In the early morning hours on Sunday, June 26, 2016, Ashley Watts of Newport Beach California took a cab home from a bar where she had been having drinks with friends. Knowing she had been drinking, she chose– correctly– to follow the law and take a cab home. Sadly, on her way out, she had grabbed her old credit card, which was already replaced with a new, working card. Needless to say, when it came time to pay the $16.70 cab fare, the old card didn’t work.
Watts asked the cab driver to allow her to go inside to get his money. The cab driver declined the request and called the police, instead. The police arrived, with Newport Beach Officers Christine Maroney and Monica Aguilar responding to this completely overblown situation. So what did our NBPD do to resolve it? They began immediately threatening Watts with arrest for the charges of “Defrauding an Innkeeper”, rather than allowing her to simply go inside to get the correct method of payment– both the police and the cab driver began causing this scene, rather than simply allowing her to pay what she owed.
Finally, Watts convinced police to allow her to go into her apartment to get the correct method of payment. When the police began to break the 4th and 5th Amendments and illegally allow themselves into her apartment, Watts asked them to stay outside. And while the police behavior may have seemed bizarre before– what happened when Watts requested that they honor her Constitutional rights went from “bizarre” to “scary”. The police began assaulting her, forcing their way into her home, smashing her head against the wall, kicked her legs out from underneath her, applied their collective body weight onto the 4’11 female, and physically restrained her using handcuffs as they hauled her off to jail.
The next morning, she was released from custody, but had no ride home. So the police– dead serious– called her a cab. The cab driver allowed her to go inside to pay him when she re-arrived at her own home.
In October 2019, a federal appellate court ruled that the officers had the defense of “qualified immunity” was good enough to stop the excessive force charges, but allowed the suit to proceed on the unlawful arrest. The city eventually settled, giving Watts $360,000 of your money because of their mistake.
Without Qualified Immunity, the officers would have been responsible for their own actions, rather than placing the burden onto the taxpayers.
Qualified Immunity means that police and politicians don’t have to obey the same laws as everyone else, making justice literally impossible to proceed, and is one of the many items highlighted in our current political climate. No matter what you think of the police or politicians, nobody should be above the law.
For those of you who may remember, City Councilwoman Diane Dixon hid behind the politically-invented doctrine of “Qualified Immunity” when she interrupted a city council meeting to falsely and publicly proclaim that I owed the city “a lot of money”. I asked for a retraction, and she flatly refused, repeatedly. I sued the city in court and the judge said that while I didn’t owe any money, never owed any money, and couldn’t have owed any money, that the law– as written by politicians– allows politicians to lie, slander, and defame people, and are unable to be held accountable for their actions, thanks to Qualified Immunity.