By Mark Niquette
Every time police Sgt. Joseph Hubbard stops a speeder or serves a search warrant, he says he worries that suspects assume they can open fire – without breaking the law.
Hubbard, a 17-year veteran of the Police Department in Jeffersonville, Ind., says his apprehension stems from a state law approved this year that allows residents to use deadly force in response to the “unlawful intrusion” by a “public servant” to protect themselves and others, or their property.
“If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,’ ” said Hubbard, 40, president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100. “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”
Indiana is the first U.S. state to specifically allow force against officers, according to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington, which represents and supports prosecutors. The National Rifle Association pushed for the law, saying an unfavorable court decision made the need clear and that it would allow homeowners to defend themselves during a violent, unjustified attack. Police lobbied against it.
The NRA has worked to spread permissive gun laws around the country. Among them is the stand-your-ground self-defense measure in Florida, which generated nationwide controversy after the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager.
The measure amends the 2006 so-called Castle Doctrine bill that allows deadly force to stop illegal entry into a home or car.
The bill’s author, Republican state Sen. Michael Young, said there haven’t been any cases in which suspects have used the law to justify shooting police.
“Public servant” was added to clarify the law after a state Supreme Court ruling last year that “there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers,” he said. The case was based on a man charged with assaulting an officer during a domestic-violence call.
Young cited a hypothetical situation of a homeowner returning to see an officer raping his daughter or wife. Under the court’s ruling, the homeowner could not touch the officer and only file a lawsuit later, he said. Young said he devised the idea for the law after the court ruling.
Opponents see a potential for mistakes and abuse.
It’s not clear under the law whether an officer acting in good faith could be legally shot for mistakenly kicking down the wrong door to serve a warrant, said state Sen. Tim Lanane, the assistant Democratic leader and an attorney.
Those who are intoxicated or emotional can’t decide whether police are acting legally, and suspects may assume they have the right to attack officers, said Tim Downs, president of the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police. The law didn’t need to be changed because there isn’t an epidemic of rogue police in Indiana, he said.
“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Downs, chief of the Lake County police in northwest Indiana. “It just puts a bounty on our heads.”