The National Police Association Files Amicus Brief in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Supporting Georgia Deputies

The National Police Association Files Amicus Brief in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Supporting Georgia Deputies

Image: Coweta County Sheriff’s Office Bodycam

Indianapolis – April 12, 2024. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the National Police Association argued that qualified immunity, applied properly, should be granted to Coweta County, Georgia deputies who had attempted a nighttime investigation of a suspicious vehicle parked in an obscure parking lot. The suspect obstructed the deputies’ investigation and fled, forcing law enforcement into a dangerous, high-speed pursuit during which a deputy used both a PIT maneuver and a service weapon to bring the pursuit to an end.

In Bolton, a Coweta County Sheriff’s deputy was patrolling the parking lot of a shopping area called the Newnan Pavilion in Newnan, Georgia, a southern suburb of Atlanta at night, on the lookout for potential burglars. The deputy observed a white SUV parked in an obscure part of the parking lot, with positioning suggestive of a getaway vehicle. The deputy approached the vehicle and asked for identification, which the driver did not provide. Instead, after a couple of minutes, the driver started his car and sped off, defying the assembled deputies’ orders. The deputies activated their lights and sirens and began pursuit. They observed the suspect, now known to be one Nicholas Bolton, to run at least two stop signs and swerve into oncoming traffic. Wanting to avoid the suspect taking his car onto a far busier highway, a deputy attempted a PIT maneuver. This turned the suspect’s SUV 180 degrees, now facing one of the deputies’ patrol vehicles. As other patrol vehicles closed in on Bolton he proceeded to slam the accelerator and ram a deputy’s vehicle attempting to run him over.

In response, the deputy, who had exited his vehicle, fired one shot into the suspect’s car. The suspect’s wheels stopped spinning. Deputies approached and found that the bullet had struck the suspect’s face, near his right eye. They broke into the locked car and removed the suspect, placing him in handcuffs on the ground while administering first aid to the gunshot injury. EMS arrived shortly thereafter and took the suspect for medical attention.

Sometime later, Mr. Bolton sued Coweta County and the involved deputies, alleging excessive force. The District Court granted qualified immunity to each individual officer for their role in the incident, which Mr. Bolton appealed. In his appellate brief, Mr. Bolton claimed that officers violated several Coweta County department policies and that these department violations carried the same weight in establishing the law, for qualified immunity purposes, as did published decisions from the Eleventh Circuit or the United States Supreme Court. The NPA responded to this argument in the first portion of its Amicus Curiae brief.

When assessing whether qualified immunity applies, a court must determine if the law that the plaintiff says the officer violated was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. In other words, was it law that what the officer did violated the constitution? If the answer is no, there was no law stating it was wrongful, then the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. What constitutes “the law” are decisions from the United States Supreme Court, published decisions from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the jurisdiction in question, and published decisions from the highest court of appeal for the state in the jurisdiction in question. What does not constitute “the law” are internal department policies. These policies are typically written with different considerations in mind than those facing the appellate courts referenced above—and often times are more restrictive than general constitutional standards. As such, non-compliance with these policies does not mean non-compliance with general constitutional standards. Thus, those policies do not establish constitutional standards.

The second argument in the NPA’s brief concerned the policy reasons supporting qualified immunity’s continued existence. It is no secret that the doctrine is under repeated, direct attack by anti-police personal injury lawyers, even though the doctrine serves valid, important public policy. On a near-daily basis, the nation’s law enforcement officers must resolve situations involving belligerent individuals who may be under the influence of intoxicants, in the throes of a mental health crisis, armed with a weapon, or some combination of all three. The difficulty—and danger—these interactions pose can scarcely be put into words. As a result, constitutional doctrines that defer to officers in such situations, who are forced into split-second life or death decisions, like qualified immunity, are preferable to the alternative.

The National Police Association is represented by Robert S. Lafferrandre and Jeffrey C. Hendrickson of Pierce Couch Hendrickson Baysinger & Green, L.L.P., in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The case is Nicholas Bolton v. Sheriff of Coweta County, Georgia, et al., No. 23-12752, before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The NPA’s brief can be accessed here.

About The National Police Association: The National Police Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit Educational/Advocacy organization. For additional information visit