Jayvis Benjamin Hearing – January 21, 2021, 10 am Eastern
Transcript: Hearing on the Case of Jayvis Benjamin
- Rapporteur Horace Campbell
- Commissioner Prof. Rashida Manjoo
- Commissioner Mr. Bert Samuels
- Ms. Montye Benjamin, mother of Jayvis Benjamin
- Patrick Megaro, attorney for the Benjamin family
Horace Campbell 00:16
Good morning, everybody. Today is January 21, the first day after the inauguration of a new president of the United States of America. Welcome to the hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States of America. I want to welcome all of you. And I think we want to establish the presence of many distinguished persons, but we’ve been want to recognize Lennox Hinds, who, whose work has been invaluable over more than 50 years and some of us know this work because of his contribution to intellectual freedom in defending people like Professor Dube. So this work on police violence is only one part of a larger work on people’s rights. And those of you who were early with us heard the moving presentation by Andrea Ritchie on violence against Black people.
These hearings are a process by which witnesses can present accounts of the unjustified killings and maimings of Black individuals by a police officer in the United States international panel of human rights experts. We now begin with the case of Jayvis Benjamin. My name is Horace Campbell. I am the rapporteur for this hearing. Presiding over this hearing. Today is Commissioner Professor Rashida Manjoo of South Africa and Commissioner Bert Samuels, attorney of Jamaica. The witnesses for the hearing are attorney Patrick Megaro and Miss Montye Benjamin, Jayvis Benjamin’s mother. There’ll be 50 minutes for this hearing. Witnesses will testify, followed by a period of questions from commissioners. I will call time on the 30 minute mark. And the 45 minute mark, please excuse my interruptions, Commissioner Manjoo and Commissioner Samuels, I now present to you the first witness, attorney Patrick Megaro. Patrick Megaro, please confirm your name.
Patrick Megaro 03:06
Patrick Michael Megaro.
Horace Campbell 03:08
Do you promise that your testimony for the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Patrick Megaro 03:17
Horace Campbell 03:18
You may begin.
Patrick Megaro 03:20
Thank you very much. Madam Chairwoman. commissioners, and esteemed members of this panel. Thank you very much for having me here today. One of the things that I would like to testify about is how something like this can happen from a legal standpoint. Montye Benjamin, my client, will testify about the impact that it has had upon her, and her family is the real victim in this incident, in this tragedy. But I would like to provide this commission with some background information as to how we got to where we are, and some suggestions that may provide some guidance going forward on how to prevent this sort of thing in the future.
Patrick Megaro 04:05
First, I will like to briefly recite the facts. I know that the Commission is well aware of the facts, but with some illustrations. I think some facts need to be emphasized more than others. This tragedy arises from an incident that occurred, now eight years ago on January 18 2013, when a police officer named Sergeant Lynn Thomas of the Avondale Estates police department in Georgia, United States was on patrol. He witnessed what he claimed was a car traveling at an excessive rate of speed. He started to pursue the car but lost sight of it. As it traveled through the city of Avondale Estates, he eventually came upon a crash site where the car apparently crashed into a front yard of a residence. There were no injuries, there was only property damage to the car, and Jayvis Benjamin was seated behind the steering wheel of the car. Thomas stopped his vehicle, exited, immediately began shouting at Benjamin to remain in the car in a very aggressive manner. Mr. Benjamin followed these instructions, and then Thomas approached the car, shouting at him, drew his firearm, and pointed it at Mr. Benjamin.
Now he’s changed his commands to get out of the car and pushed him down as Mr. Benjamin sat in the car. So we have some very contradictory statements here. We have first a command to stay in the car, and then we have a command to get out of the car while he’s simultaneously being pushed back in the car. Jayvis Benjamin started to climb out the window because the doors of the car were damaged. Thomas continued pointing his firearm at Benjamin and began to back up. As Mr. Benjamin got out of the car, as confirmed on video, he put his hands up and apparently looked at somebody off camera and said, You all see what he’s trying to do to me? And no point did he make any further furtive movements and no point did he display any aggressive behavior. As a matter of fact, Mr. Thomas backed away in an in a different direction than Mr. Benjamin was walking. And the next thing, you know, Officer Thomas is shooting Mr. Benjamin, who is completely unarmed and at that point, had made no attempt to attack the police officer.
Unfortunately, those shots proved to be fatal. And subsequently, the local prosecutors office, which is the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, conducted an internal investigation, a civil grand jury, not a criminal grand jury, but a civil grand jury. And the distinction is important here, under state law it was convened to hear testimony on this matter, and not record, not issue charges, but simply to conduct an investigation and recommend whether charges should be pursued or not. Mr. Benjamin’s case was one of six cases that was presented to the civil grand jury. and Mrs. Benjamin, Montye Benjamin, several family members went to the district attorney’s office, and saw that there were two different versions of the video from the dashboard camera of the police car. And that is key, because the version that they saw at the district attorney’s office, provided a wider field of view, provided additional information that supported the theory that Jayvis Benjamin was shot without attacking the police officer or making any attempt to do so. However, later, subsequently, that video was cut down on the sides to restrict the field of view to alter it and make it look as though something else had occurred off camera which, it clearly did not. Nevertheless, out of the six cases presented to the civil grand jury. Two out of those six cases were recommended for criminal prosecution, and were recommended to convene a criminal grand jury to consider charges against the officer.
Mr. Benjamin’s case was one of those two cases. Unfortunately, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office declined to present the case to a criminal grand jury and instead notified Montye Benjamin it would not be pursuing any criminal charges against Officer Thomas from the unlawful and unjustified killing of Jayvis Liddell Benjamin. That was when Montye Benjamin sought civil remedies under the United States Code, specifically 42 United States Code Section 1983, which is a civil rights law in the United States, and sought my services to file a lawsuit for deprivation of civil rights in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta, Georgia.
We filed that lawsuit and Sergeant Lynn Thomas and the city of Avondale Estates responded, and unfortunately, the judge dismissed the lawsuit and December of 2017, basically ruling that the doctrine of qualified immunity prevented either the city or the police officer from being sued. We then tried to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit, which upheld the ruling and even the United States Supreme Court refused to consider the case at all. So this is where we currently stand today, on January 21 2021, eight years after this woman lost her son. A mother has lost her child. The community has lost a bright young man with a valuable future. The Benjamin family has lost a brother, people have lost a friend. And we sit here wondering how does this happen? Now over the past several months, a lot has been said about racial injustice in the United States. And I look at it from a legal point of view; that is only part of the problem. Because what people living in United States and people living outside the United States, I always wonder, who are not steeped in the law, not trained in the law, is how does something like this happen legally without repercussion without consequence? How is there no consequence for killing an unarmed man? And how do the police continuously get away with it?
And the answer to that question is because of American legal jurisprudence has a doctrine called qualified immunity, which is just as foreign to people outside of the United States as it is to most people in the United States. So for those of us who are unfamiliar with qualified immunity, it is a legal principle that grants government officials who perform what is called discretionary functions, immunity from civil suit, unless the plaintiffs can show that the official violated some clearly established statutory or constitutional right, which a reasonable person would have known to be the case. And what it does is it protects government officials from being sued, except what they call the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. The problem is just like with all laws, there’s enormous loopholes. And eventually, the exception becomes the rule, and the rule becomes the exception. And unfortunately, qualified immunity is no different from any of these other legal principles that always start out with the best intentions, but unfortunately, get molded, reshaped, abused, until they no longer have any meaning. And it’s important to know that the doctrine of qualified immunity was created by the United States Supreme Court in 1967, at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States, and again, started with good intentions. And the rationale was then a law enforcement official should not be sued in frivolous lawsuits, and face financial liability in cases where they acted in good faith in unclear legal situations.
Since 1967, a lot has changed. And the courts have interpreted this rule very broadly, to basically give police officers license to do almost anything that they want, with little or no repercussion whatsoever, especially in cases involving excessive or deadly force by police. And it is no secret that the people facing the brunt of excessive or deadly force by police are frequently young Black men. There is, there is simply no disputing that. The numbers do not lie whatsoever. The problem is that the net result has basically provided the police officers with a license to kill and basically allows them to do whatever they please because they know that in the end, there is an extraordinarily high chance that anything they do will be protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. So then the question really becomes how do we prevent this from happening again? And sadly, there is no way to prevent this from happening. Again, this will happen again, even the most stringent laws cannot prevent that. But what I think we can do is prevent the or decrease the frequency with the way these kinds of tragedies occurs, because by holding government officials and law enforcement officials to at least some standard of accountability, that will likely reduce the number of these tragedies.
Right now there is no accountability. With no accountability, there is no restraint. When there is accountability, when there are consequences for your actions, there is a strong motivation for restraint. And we know that from human history, we know that from human nature, we are all taught at a young age by our parents, and by teachers and whoever helps shape us as we grow up. That there are consequences for our actions. It is not my law, it’s the universe’s law. But when we take a police officer who may have bad intentions in his heart, and put him in a situation where he has a license to kill, beat, maim, torture, or what have you. And put them in a situation where they face no accountability for those actions. This is a recipe for disaster. And one of the things that we should be asking ourselves is is this worth it? Is it worth having people killed by government for alleged petty crimes, selling untaxed cigarettes? speeding? We could go on and on and on with recent examples in the United States. Is the loss of life the price we pay to live in a quote, “civilized society”? And is this a civilized society that allows these types of things to happen because most people would not want to live in a “civilized society” where the poor, the oppressed, and the little man can be sacrificed to the government official who has no responsibility for his actions whatsoever. So those are one of the things that we need to consider here. Is this worth it? And I will close with a quote from William Blackstone, one of the foremost commentators on the common law who said 250 years ago, it is better that 10 guilty persons escape and not one innocent suffer.
Whatever happened to that piece, that centerpiece of legal jurisprudence? What happened was qualified immunity has destroyed it. And the sooner that we get rid of qualified immunity, the sooner that we hold people accountable for their actions, those bad motives, those bad intentions, those people will not be able to do what they want to do. And even those people who may not have that in their hearts, but develop it over a set of time as they become desensitized to violence desensitized to brutality, those situations will decrease as well. I will turn this over to Montye Benjamin on allow her to make her eloquent statement to this commission as to the loss that she has suffered. And wish her nothing but the best. Thank you.
Montye Benjamin 16:31
Hello, everyone. My name is Montye Benjamin. And again, as Patrick presented in all of the evidence, for me as a mother of Jayvis Benjamin —
Horace Campbell 16:45
Montye, can we swear you in first?
Montye Benjamin 16:51
Horace Campbell 16:53
Okay. Commissioners Manjoo and Samuels I now present to you the second witness, Ms. Montye Benjamin, Jayvis Benjamin’s mother, Ms. Montye Benjamin, please confirm your name.
Montye Benjamin 17:25
My name is Montye Benjamin.
Horace Campbell 17:28
Thank you. Do you promise that your testimony to the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Montye Benjamin 17:38
Yes, I do.
Horace Campbell 17:39
You may begin.
Montye Benjamin 17:42
Okay. Again, my name is Montye Benjamin and I’m Jayvis Benjamin’s mother. This journey for me and my family has been like none other. And a lot of what I have been through have been very contradictory to what I know of law, and of the being the survivor of someone who lost their life at the hands of law enforcement. What I will say is that, throughout my journey, a lot of what I went to prior to me obtaining Mr. Megaro, my attorney, which I am truly grateful for, because it’s been a learning lesson for myself through the process of getting justice for my son. Initially, from the beginning of the case, a lot of false narratives were given on the behalf of Jayvis in the sense that we were told by a representative from the Avondale Estates police department that Jayvis assaulted the officer, and that he had no choice because he was a big black man hovered over him. So he had to shoot him. They presented it to me with the sense of intimidation, thinking that I would basically receive what they told me without seeking further information as to what happened. But being that I know who my son was, and the type of person that he was, I knew that it was untrue. So with me pursuing that particularly, the direction of finding out what actually happened because I did not receive the first false narrative that they had.
They initially said that he carjacked, and that he assaulted the officer, so he had no choice but to shoot him. I had to pursue for two years. My son’s case was under investigation by the local former DA for two years, which exceeds the statute of limitation in the state of Georgia for investigations. It was then that my eldest son, pursued seeking the grand jury to the attorney and protesting that our case be heard. Once our case was actually heard, that’s when I initially found out the truth with my family, so with other family members reviewing the original videotape, I did not view it, but my family did, because I didn’t want to see Jayvis suffer. I, you know, I didn’t know what to expect, but his siblings along with my sisters did review it. And they documented the different phases of the video, as well as to what occurred. But when we attended the grand jury hearing, there were six different views and with those six different views, also, the thing that was amazing that those jurists actually asked all the questions that I had in mind, um, the day that he was initially killed.
Then not only that, it was also a detective from the GBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who initially on the day, the day after he was killed, he basically told me that he felt that with the FOIA Act, the Open Records Act along with my rights as his mother and guardian, that he suggested that I get all three videos, one from investigations from the district attorney’s office, from the GBI, and along with the Avondale Estates Police Department. So he did say he could not discuss the case. So it was upon him telling me that when I knew that it was more to the case than what was originally presented by the police department. And from there, that’s when I began to ask further questions. Me and my son made constant visits to the district attorney, who put us off by stating that he was dealing with a higher case, a high profile case, and that he will get back with me in 30 days. So he postponed initially meeting with my family along with the statute of limitation, which, of course, my son was murdered. But depending upon the investigation by the district attorney, those two years had exceeded so upon the viewing with the grand jury, that’s when we found out thatJayvis was in an accident, and that he climbed out of the car.
And that was then that officer Lynn Thomas shot him upon getting out of the car alone with a witness. It was a car, another car that he hit, and them telling the people in the community, telling that witness to get back into the car. Well, with all of what we saw during the grand jury hearing, we never got any further than initially doing the comparison when it came for us to do the civil court case, simply because they pretty much came to their own decision of dismissing the case based on as to what Patrick was saying about the qualified immunity. But upon us actually getting more information during the grand jury hearing, it was puzzling to me from what all that I’ve learned in school as to how the chief investigator kept trying to manipulate and influence the questions of the grand jury in another direction. And by the grace of God, for me, it was amazing that those jurors had the specific questions that they were basically scattering around the place, trying to get even some of the witnesses because some of the witnesses even recanted, that there was no fight as it was first presented.
So that was just a lot of what was in the court system that was really puzzling to me and very contradictory, because at the same time, they totally violated Jayvis’ rights as an individual and only considered him as a number, when considering everything that actually happened was that this man aggressively approached him after being in an accident, and then just initially shot him, because there was no altercation. There was no you know, force anything. So with the decision of the grand jury, when we sat in there, they basically suggested a strongly advised indictment of the Officer Thomas and the former DA his name was Robert um, my mind just went on with his last name is. He then announced ,the day after the grand jury hearing that he will be bringing up Officer Thomas up on criminal charges. He then waited approximately 10 months later, to state that he didn’t agree with the grand jury, and that he felt that the grand jury needed to be trained to view police officers training. So that is when he then changed his decision from requesting the criminal grand jury to initially dismissing the case. Because he felt the jury was not trained.
So for me moving from there, and that decision that was made, it was only five months later, after the former DA dismissed the charges, that Officer Thomas was promoted to Chief of his department, skipping rank from Sergeant to Chief, and he is presently still sitting in that same position based on that, along with the City Council of Avondale Eastates, pretty much patting him on the back for actually killing my son who did had no altercation. And basically had, he had really no justifiable reason to actually shoot him because he had no information about who my son was, until after he was dead. So then after he was dead, that’s when the initial story was planted that he assaulted the officer, and that he had no choice but to shoot my son, who had his both of his hands raised at the time of saying, Do ya see what he’s trying to do to me? So in the midst of us going through the court, and everything, along with the grand jury, strongly advising indictment, it was just really contradictory as to all of what was presenting therein, because my family along with my attorney, Patrick Megaro, along with Jamie, Hull, Hullston, we had, we had to do affidavits, we never, we never got to discovery, we had to give affidavits on the comparison of the videotapes that was presented originally during the grand jury hearing, as opposed to the ones that was presented to the civil case.
And there were two totally different viewings. That was utterly mind blowing because of how they cropped it off, they did not have any of the timestamp as it applies to each phase of what happened. When Jayvis was initially shot, they did not show the three different views because the view that we saw in the grand jury hearing, you could see officer Thomas approaching my son, and trying to decide whether or not he was going to pull his gun or taser, but then yet he pulled his gun prior to Jayvis even getting out of the car. So the comparisons in the two, whereas he went to the appellate court, and everything, they just basically clung to everything in the decision of the district attorney dismissing the case, along with the decision that him basically saying that it was justified. Whereas for me, it was kind of mind blowing, because it’s like, his father was actually a police officer as well. And I am a former student of criminal, a criminal justice major. And a lot of what happened through my journey was very contradictory from what I was taught in school. And it’s just kind of mind blowing, because for me to have some knowledge of what should have occurred or how some of the investigation should have been done. It’s the fact that they took it for granted that I would not be aware of it.
So each approach that I make by going to contact them, they made it seem that I was this angry Black woman, and that I needed to just accept the fact that my son was a criminal, on which he wasn’t. And that’s the thing that was really mind blowing about it, because I understand in order for them to make the shooting justified, they had to charge him with something. And yet it was only a traffic violation, yet it does not exceed to him losing his life, when what they should have did was give him a ticket and allow him to have his day in court. And none of that occurred. And with again, back to the grand jury the questions that was presented to the investigator along with those who was there to represent the Avondale police department. It was just really interesting that they avoided and did not answer directly and try to label him as a criminal.
And that’s the thing that really bothers me the most because I’m not saying that my son was a perfect angel. But at the end of the day, he did not deserve to lose his life for simply running a red light and wrecking into a telephone pole. The fact that the car was actually totaled from the incident itself should have said more about who officer Thomas was, because he did not assess for any injuries, what his initial thought was to rush up and draw his gun. And at the same time at the incident, he had no history of my son, other than the fact that he was a Black male in a Mustang convertible and from that point on, that’s when he took it upon himself to take my son’s life. So and then not only that, the things that really bothered me the most is during the grand jury hearing one of the witnesses, recanted his story as to saying that there was not a fight, whereas the assistant DA was scrambling around basically saying, but this is what you stated upon the questioning. So with me saying all of that, it’s just looking at it, it was a mockery as to what I was taught. So again, basically as far as my family, and the loss of my son who had a very, very viable and promising future, all that was snuffed out with the intentions of the court system along with the former DA, thinking that I would just go away and not continue to pursue. So my pursuing now is, I have grandsons, along with granddaughters. And my thing is to give as much information as assisting other families so that they can get whatever possible recourse of getting justice in the light, along with what Patrick was saying that qualified immunity needs to be revised or reviewed, or in fact, removed, along with grand jury reform.
Because again, I’ve been working with also representative Henry Hank Johnson, who then too have been pursuing three different bills that he’s presented to the House, when she you know, the last meeting I have, he will be presenting it to the 117th session, along with a criminal Grand Jury reform, stop militarization of the police departments and the cooling down process, which does not allow officers to have the 72 days, so with the the 10 days, or how many days that they’re given before they have to give a report. So again,
Horace Campbell 32:05
Excuse me, We passed the 30 minute mark, just to give you – no, go ahead.
Montye Benjamin 32:15
So again, I’m basically, that’s pretty much what I wanted to also I see where Charlotte has presented those of these. Whenever I go to the different universities and speaking engagements that I have had, I would share this information that was given to me. What he did was narrow it down about the different bills that he presented to the House, which now he will have to re-present it again to the 117th session, as far as the police accountability, along with stop militarization, and the cooling down process. So again, those are basically what I have been in pursuit of, as to getting justice not only for my son, but assisting other families as to different steps that they take, because then I’m also saying that from the very beginning, they need to document. I don’t care who it is, I don’t care who their attorney or whatever they need to document. So again, I’m finishing, thank you so much for your time.
Horace Campbell 33:17
Rashida Manjoo 33:21
Thank you, Ms. Benjamin. And thank you, Mr. Megaro. Ms. Benjamin, I’m really sorry about the loss of your son. And you know, as you’ve written in your affidavit, it’s been eight years. And that time has no meaning when you’ve lost a loved one, under such, under any, circumstances, but under such circumstances where you cannot see justice. You said something really profound, and I think it it will resonate for many other Black women, when you fortunately, knew something about how the law ought to function. In theory, you’ve done the courses, you’ve been part of law enforcement because of your partner, etc. But the way to dismiss what you knew, was to regard you through the lens of the DA as this angry Black woman who was refusing to give up and that becomes a strategy and a tactic that gets used quite often to label, you know, women like us who keep on asking the questions, who raise the challenges as angry Black women so that we will go away or will feel insulted enough and shut up. And I’m glad that you didn’t.
Rashida Manjoo 34:49
They will was one statement that you made in this document about the grandfather, your son’s grandfather who the vehicle belongs to, and at some point he was questioned about ownership and permission to drive the vehicle. And he said that Benjamin did not have his permission. How did you interpret this? Not on behalf of your relative, but on behalf of the police asking a loaded question? So first of all, there’s a traffic violation of speeding, which is the allegation. And as the case goes on, it’s trying to find new things, you know, that he threatened the police officer, etc. but also contacting the grandfather about whether Benjamin did have permission to be driving the car. What is your interpretation at that time? What were they doing?
Montye Benjamin 35:56
I mean, I’m not understanding, you know,
Rashida Manjoo 35:59
Your interpretation of the police action to try and now add a component, which is either that car was stolen by him, or that he was driving it without permission. I mean, that was my interpretation. I read it, and I’m not sure if that’s the correct inference that I’m making.
Montye Benjamin 36:21
Okay, well, um, as far as my interpretation of that, um, what I will say is, as far as him not being an author, I mean, for him not being authorized to drive. To my knowledge prior to the accident, it was him and his cousins who had an apartment together, with staying together and that they were using it among themselves. So it wasn’t until after the actual incident that it was knowledge to me through his grandfather, that he was not an authorized driver. But he from my knowledge, only after he was killed. I was aware that among his cousins, he had been using the car prior to that. So for my knowledge, it was that during the incident itself, he was recorded as an unauthorized driver and not that he stole the car. The narrative was then later stated that he stole the car from his cousin, and that it was angry, how that story occurred, but it was not as such, because prior to that particular day, it was an understanding between me and him that that night before that we was going to meet because, again, at that time, he was on my phone bill, and he was gonna come meet me once he go get his check to pay the bill. So that’s to my knowledge, that was my understanding that he would have the car and drive it.
Patrick Megaro 38:01
I’m sorry, Montye, I didn’t want to cut you off. Madam Chairwoman, I just would like to say that I’ve been practicing law for almost 20 years now, as a civil rights attorney and as primarily as a criminal defense attorney, and criminal appellate attorney. And what happened in this case is unfortunately, no different than what has happened in 1000s, literally 1000s of other cases I’ve handled, which is where the police will try to retroactively justify a particular course of action. And then when I lived in New York City, and practiced primarily in New York City, the running joke, which was a macabre joke, was that the NYPD would always try to frame a guilty man. And that’s where they would run into trouble. The fact remains that at the moment that this incident occurred, the officer had no such information, whether Mr. Benjamin was authorized or unauthorized, or otherwise, the owner or not the owner of the car. And what they tried to do is they try to go back in time, and engage in this character assassination and smear the victim to try and color everything to make it look like everything was their fault. And if they didn’t happen to drive this car that they weren’t authorized to drive, then he would still be alive today. That’s how the argument goes, which is complete nonsense. But unfortunately, the point of all this is, this is by no means unusual.
Bert Samuels 39:34
May I? Attorney Megaro. Sir, I’m a defense, I’m a defense attorney myself. How do you operate in a system which is laced with multiple stages of systemic injustice, for example, the power of the DA to overrule a jury in your justice system and prevent a criminal indictment going forward. Is that appealable? Or is it reviewable? Or just lies as it has in this case, to, as it were, insult a jury’s decision and prevent the matter going forward as a criminal matter? How do you operate in that system?
Patrick Megaro 40:17
It’s extraordinarily frustrating. And I’ve certainly been – I’ve represented many people like Ms. Benjamin, in the past, unfortunately, that have been in the same situation where we believe that our client has been the victim of police brutality, and that there should be some criminal responsibility. And unfortunately, in the United States system of justice, the prosecutor enjoys almost completely unfettered discretion in whether to bring charges and what charges to bring.
And there is virtually no judicial review of those discretionary functions. And it gets even better. We talk about qualified immunity, which presumably means that there is there are some instances where law enforcement officers can be held accountable. In the United States of America, prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity. And that is another thing that I think needs reform because absolute immunity basically creates a an environment where there is incentive to cover up the actions of law enforcement officers who are less than honest. And, again, also provides the perfect conditions for prosecutors to engage in extremely politically charged decisions. As we saw recently, in the case of General Michael Flynn, in the United States, whatever side you fall on, you cannot discount the fact that the absolute immunity privilege does not keep prosecutors honest.
Bert Samuels 42:03
Okay, thank you.
Rashida Manjoo 42:06
Thanks. But in terms of the qualified immunity, your recommendation is that the doctrine should be – you should get rid of it. Qualified immunity doctrine arises out of judicial precedents?
Patrick Megaro 42:25
Rashida Manjoo 42:27
Out of judicial precedents, so you’re going to have the judges jumping up and down, that you cannot take away discretion?
Patrick Megaro 42:36
Actually, no, I’m in under the United States Constitution. Congress has the final say, on the limits of discretion for the judiciary. So all it takes is a law from Congress, basically saying an act of Congress saying qualified immunity is hereby abolished. And the federal judiciary no longer has any judicial discretion on considering a defense of qualified immunity. And it really can be that simple. The question is whether there is the will to and forgive my sarcasm here, but is there the will to hold government officials to the same standard of responsibility as all of us little people, and that is that is the question whether there is the political will.
Bert Samuels 43:30
Okay, Ms. Benjamin. Sorry.
Rashida Manjoo 43:33
Bert Samuels 43:35
Okay, Ms. Benjamin, how, how have you and your family been able to manage the emotional rollercoaster of having a favorable verdict reversed by a DA and then having the qualified immunity imposed on you as a roadblock? And finally, the promotion of a police officer who killed your son? How has that emotional rollercoaster progressed, how have you been able to manage the up and down and the optimism and despair that you have been thrown into?
Montye Benjamin 44:14
Actually, it’s been a journey like none other. What I will say is being, during these eight years, I have connected with other families who have had, along with Eric Garner’s mother Miss Gwen, Miss Diallo and all of them, and their support has been like no other for myself being a mother and them being mothers as well. But for us, my family it’s been like an emotional, like you said, extreme roller coaster of the highest level when it comes to his siblings because he was the younger, he was, I would say, eight or nine years junior, so to him though he was little brother. He was almost like their own, you know, personal – they have their own personal bond, which is quite natural within family members. But same with my other children, which are now adults. They have their different ways of dealing with it. Whereas my daughter she pretty much have her solitude, and she has a personal time, whereas my son Steven, he’s has been going through different phases of rage, I wouldn’t say in a physical sense or any harm to anybody else, but it’s to his manhood.
Because not only that, through these eight years he too has been harassed by the local police department, with three o’clock in the morning, rushes on his home, saying he hiding fugitive and just doing all kinds of stuff to intimidating him and being stopped on the road, they realize who he is. So like I said, again, family members in general, once they see the length of it, it has been very harassing yet hard to even fathom the thought that the very man who shot and killed him was promoted to chief. So to kind of put it all in together as to how my family’s been dealing with it. Because again, this past Monday, which was Martin Luther King Holiday, was the eight year anniversary of Jayvis’ death, and with having to deal with it, and to know him as the civil rights advocate in his day in a civil rights activist, as well. To know that with some of the things that he said that we will all be treated equally, I would say, for my me and my family, it’s been really hard because he was that person that has such a promising future. And he was the family member that wanted everybody to be happy, he wanted everybody to connect, was willing to give whatever he had to make you happy. So with the roller coaster, I would say to the extent of family, and everyone that know him, and then that’s the other part that really bothers me too, is because a lot of his classmates just not finding out.
And when they approaches me, they are like, they could not believe it, because he wasn’t that person, they tried to label him out to be. So for me and my family, it’s been really crazy, more so than anything. And I would say, I gained the weight of rage as my son did, once he was promoted to Chief. And then when the Commissioner of his city council pretty much patted him on the back and stated by saying he didn’t think he did anything wrong. Knowing that he shot somebody, he had no background information. There was no – he had no altercations with any law enforcement or any police department.
So again, it’s just been really rough that sometimes it just feel like it just happened yesterday. So to say, and then I also like to give credit to my therapist, and I have a therapist, her name is Maria Gooding. And she has kind of she has been speaking with me in the last four years, every week, which today is one of my sessions. And that has gotten me through a lot of what myself, personally, I’m dealing with, you know, the the tragedy of losing my son. So again, with Monday being the holiday itself, that I mean for holiday, along with my son’s death. This week been a little heavier than others, as we kind of getting through it. And I will say the same for my family, because they’re constantly calling me and checking on me to see how I’m doing wherein I’m checking with them as well.
Horace Campbell 48:53
We are, we have passed the 45 minute mark.
Montye Benjamin 48:57
Rashida Manjoo 48:59
Thank you. Thank you, Ms. Benjamin. Mr. Megaro, to go back to the qualified immunity. I mean, if Congress can pass a law, precluding judges from taking into account, have there been any advocacy efforts? Or politicians, Ms. Benjamin, you know, has sort of taken her matter in the justice field as well as in the political domain. In terms of these draft bills, that will be tabled again. Has there been advocacy efforts about getting rid of — get having a law passed to abolish the qualified immunity doctrine?
Patrick Megaro 49:44
There hasn’t been any real sort of effort. And, strangely enough, if you’re if you’re familiar with the American political system, none of those — there have been no real serious calls from either the Democrats or the Republicans. Strangely, or maybe not strangely, those calls for abolishing qualified immunity have come mainly from people who align themselves with the Libertarian Party and the libertarian movement, which is a third party and unfortunately does not wield that much influence. But that’s where the loudest calls have come from. The only national politician on the national stage that has ever really advocated for that was Dr. Ron Paul. So that’s unfortunate, unfortunately, there really has not been any sort of legislative bills introduced, that I’m aware of. And there’s been no real effort to go go forward and do that. And again, you know, there, the question is why there isn’t much of a political will at this point.
Rashida Manjoo 50:48
So considering that, you know, and we are — this is the fourth day that we’re hearing testimony and this issue has come up in almost every statement that we’ve read or listened to. So the advocacy groups that advocate for law reform, for criminal justice reform, is this not on their radar? Or is it that they feel there will not be a political appetite to bring this before, to advocate for this before the Congress?
Patrick Megaro 51:22
That’s a good question. I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know this, if you want anything done, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, and the louder that I think people petition their elected officials to move forward with these types of reforms, the more steam it is going to gather. And I think the the effort really has to come at the grassroots level in order to achieve any sort of change, because the courts are certainly not going to do this. They’re the one that created the mess. And there has been some rumblings among the judiciary, some commentators have said, maybe it’s time that we dial this back a little bit. But the real change is going to come to the legislative efforts. And then that has to come from the citizens constantly approaching their, their elected officials, and demanding that this happen, and saying, you know, our children are being murdered, or our friends and our family are being beaten in the streets. And they’re doing this with impunity. What can we do? What can you do as my local elected official to stop this?
Bert Samuels 52:38
What do you say? Would you agree with me that the right to life by African American men who can lose their lives for a mere traffic violation is in a crisis in the United States of America, the constitutional right to life is in a crisis for African American men and women?
Patrick Megaro 53:01
I would agree with that. And I would say that, unfortunately, that is only one of many aspects of law enforcement abuse, that we suffer. And unfortunately there’s, there’s a joke that everybody has their chance on the chopping block, at one point, whether it is you get off with something as light as a traffic ticket, that is completely unjustified. Or it goes everything up until your property being taken from you without just cause without due process, and then your life being taken from you. And there’s everything in between. And the problem is that qualified immunity protects all of those things. There is a real danger for young Black men at the hands of police officers. That’s beyond dispute. But they, unfortunately, by far, there, young Black men are not the only victims of these types of abuses. Those are the ones that we hear about the most because those are the most extreme. Thank you.
Horace Campbell 54:12
Thank you so much. Thank you. This concludes the hearings of the case of Jayvis Benjamin. We will now have a short break. And we’ll resume with the case of Jeffery Price after five minutes.
Patrick Megaro 54:30
Thank you very much.