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No broad immunity for police officers involved in injury-causing acts

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The deputies and their employer were immune because the employees’ alleged negligence occurred during the performance of their official duties and investigation of the crime, the appellate court said.

In the case of Leon v. County of Riverside, the California Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment and returned the case for further proceedings.

The Supreme Court rejected the county’s argument that section 821.6 covered claims of injury caused by acts that were merely investigatory and unconnected to the prosecution of an official proceeding. The provision’s text and legislative history did not support this argument, the Supreme Court said.

The Supreme Court cited the case of Sullivan v. County of Los Angeles (1974). Here, the court examined the text and legislative history of section 821.6. The provision did not immunize a county and its officials from a false imprisonment suit based on the failure to discharge an inmate whose lawful term had expired, the court concluded in that case.

The legislative intent of the provision was to protect public employees from liability only for malicious prosecution and not for false imprisonment, the court added.

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