Lynette Christmas calls out qualified immunity (QI). (Content warning: sexual assault.) In 2016, bad cop Thomas Carl Pierson sexually assaulted Lynette Christmas. This horrific incident happened in Georgia. During a traffic stop. Christmas survived. She pursued justice. Furthermore, she is now an accountability advocate. Specifically, she advocates to end qualified immunity.
On September 19, Lynette Christmas published an op-ed. In her piece, she calls out QI. The article appeared in USA Today. This isn’t the first time the periodical criticizes qualified immunity. For example, the USA Today Editorial Board came out against QI in July. Since then, the outlet has featured other pieces blasting the doctrine. (You can find two recent examples here and here.)
In her op-ed, Lynette Christmas demands justice. During her legal process, she made an unsettling discovery. Meaning, she discovered that Thomas Carl Pierson had a history of abuse. Shockingly, her assault wasn’t the first time the corrupt cop had used excessive force.
And he didn’t face accountability.
“I…found out that Pierson’s conduct shouldn’t have been a surprise,” Christmas writes. “The Sheriff’s Office and the sheriff himself – who knew Pierson was dangerous and decided to let him keep working anyway – were shielded from civil liability by…qualified immunity.”
Simply put, Sheriff Robert Michael Jolley, Pierson’s supervisor, had looked the other way. Plus, he allowed qualified immunity to protect the bad cop.
Lynette Christmas took action against Jolley and Pierson. As she remarks, “I sued [them] for violations of my Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.” In her suit, she indicated the “civil rights violations based on Jolley’s policies and customs of tolerating abusive cops on the force.”
Eventually, a court found Pierson liable. However, the judge also ruled that “Jolley and his office were protected by…qualified immunity.” Why? Because in Christmas’ case, “they weren’t on notice that an abusive cop might engage in…sexual assault.” Jolley was off the hook.
“While I find comfort in knowing that my aggressor is behind bars, seeing Jolley…escape civil liability is a miscarriage of justice that I have to deal with,” she notes.
But, despite the injustice, Lynette Christmas refuses to give up. Moreover, she’s a courageous fighter and a survivor. In addition, she speaks out for what’s right. And what’s right is real accountability. What’s right is ending qualified immunity.
Read the Lynette Christmas op-ed in USA Today here.