Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe told voters Thursday night that he would not repeal qualified immunity. In April, McAuliffe pledged to "end" the policy.
During a Thursday night debate against his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin, McAuliffe said that he "would not end" qualified immunity, a legal shield that protects police from most lawsuits while they're on the job. The statement is a reversal from McAuliffe's position during the Democratic primary, when his campaign said he would end qualified immunity as part of his plan to "increase police accountability."
"Terry believes Virginia must increase police accountability and transparency in incidents of misconduct, improve training, expand body-worn camera programs, and end policies like qualified immunity that can prevent accountability when heinous acts are committed against Virginians," McAuliffe spokesman Jake Rubenstein told the Virginia Mercury on April 13. One month later at a May 6 Democratic debate, McAuliffe again said he supported ending the policy.
McAuliffe's flip-flop came just hours after he lashed out at a local sheriff who questioned his record on police funding. When Montgomery County sheriff Hank Partin noted that McAuliffe accepted an endorsement from a group that supports defunding police, the gubernatorial hopeful asked Parin if he was "out of his mind." Partin responded by calling the answer "unbelievable," to which McAuliffe said, "I don't care what you believe!"
Youngkin said McAuliffe "completely recanted" his position on qualified immunity during Thursday's debate.
"This is why the law enforcement community doesn't trust him," Youngkin said. "Standing up for Virginians is more than just rhetoric and political statements—it's about actions."
McAuliffe is not the only statewide Democratic candidate to spar with police in recent months. Virginia attorney general Mark Herring (D.) wrongly touted the endorsement of two local sheriffs who actually backed his Republican opponent due to the Democratic Party's push to defund police.