2017 Year in Review: A Look Back at the Biggest Stories in Law Enforcement and Corrections

Sexual Harassment takes the Spotlight: As sexual harassment and sexual assault claims sweep through all types of industries, law enforcement and correctional agencies should be prepared to handle these matters – both amongst employees, pretrial detainees, and inmates who may raise claims. Do you know whether hugs can lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit against a supervisor? Read our article from April to find out.  It is also important to know that court cases and state regulations often create special sets of rules for sexual assault and harassment cases.  For example, there are no time limits for filing an administrative appeal alleging sexual violence or staff sexual misconduct.[1]

Supreme Court Weighs in on Officer Involved Shootings: On May 30, 2017, the US Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez.  Originally, the Ninth Circuit had said that a law enforcement officer could be held liable for a Fourth Amendment violation when he provoked a violent encounter that led to an officer-involved shooting, even when the officer’s later decision to use force was reasonable.  However, the Supreme Court overruled this decision and held that the Ninth Circuit’s “provocation rule” has no basis in the Fourth Amendment.  Read more about the decision and four take-aways here.

Supreme Court Limits Lawsuits against the Federal Officials: On June 19, 2017, the US Supreme Court ruled that individuals could not sue the FBI Director Mueller, the INS Director, and the Attorney General for money damages arising from the policy decisions relating to the treatment of detainees following the September 2011 attacks. The Court held that Bivens lawsuits were meant to discourage illegal acts by individual federal officers and not to stop illegal federal policies. Although the plaintiffs could have sued for injunctive relief, they could not sue high-level policy makers for money damages, as this would distract executive officials from making difficult policy decisions. Read more about this decision here.

#Twitter: No matter how you feel about President Trump, there is no denying that he has made Twitter a prominent platform, with his Tweets read even by those who are not technologically savvy. The rise of social media raises several questions in the legal and employment context.  Can 140-character posts and hashtag descriptors be used as evidence against law enforcement officers? Are these posts protected by the First Amendment?  What does social media have to do with Brady lists? Read our article from July for answers.

Ninth Circuit Further Erodes Exhaustion Requirement: On August 31, 2017, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Fong v. Jackson which stated that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) rules only apply if an individual is an inmate at the time s/he files the operative complaint.  In other words, if an inmate filed an amended complaint after s/he was released from prison, s/he is not required to exhaust their administrative remedies.  While this case may not make national headlines, it is an important and disappointing case, which further weakens the PLRA exhaustion requirements for inmate litigation.  Read more here.

California + Cannabis:  With Proposition 64 passing in November 2016, this year was a big year for public and private entities to figure out marijuana regulations before the licenses for cultivation and business developments are set to issue in 2018.  We took a look at several marijuana related issues such as whether law enforcement agencies could restrict their employees from investing in marijuana businesses and medical marijuana in prison.

[1] 15 CCR § 3084.8(b)(4).

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