Police vehicle

Senate passes bill to allow civil suits for racially-motivated 911 calls

Kent’s Das sponsor of measure

The state Senate passed legislation on Monday, March 8 that would provide legal recourse to those who are victims of biased or discriminatory police notifications.

“This bill is a response to a problem we’ve seen way too often,” said Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, the sponsor of Senate Bill 5135, in a Senate Democrats news release. “People of color – most often our Black neighbors – in our state and around the nation have had the cops called on them by someone who intends to threaten or intimidate or communicate they don’t belong, not to protect public safety.

“This has happened to folks waiting for friends at a coffee shop, or birdwatching, or knocking doors, or enjoying an outdoor picnic with family – and those are just the incidents caught on camera. It’s extremely hurtful and it wastes the time and resources of law enforcement.

“My bill would empower folks to seek reprieve in small claims court if they experience a malicious or racially-motivated summoning of police.”

SB 5135 would authorize a civil cause of action – allowing an individual to recover economic and noneconomic damages, punitive damages and reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees – if someone summons a law enforcement officer with false intent.

This includes the intent to infringe on another person’s constitutional rights, to unlawfully discriminate against someone, to cause someone to feel harassed or humiliated, to expel someone from a place they have every right to be, or to damage someone’s reputation. Plaintiffs may recover damages up to $250 if a defendant is found liable. Courts may also award punitive damages and reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 28-21. It now moves on to the House for consideration.

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