Senate committee passes harsher penalties for assault against peace officers, Education employees
Published: September 11, 2013
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ST. CROIX - The Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety met Tuesday and approved two bills that would increase the penalties for people who assault peace officers or employees of the V.I. Education Department.
Bill No. 30-0165, an act amending local law by enhancing the penalty for assaulting with a weapon of any kind a peace officer in the lawful discharge of his duties, was favorably forwarded to the Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The change would increase the penalty for that crime to no more than 10 years in prison and $2,000 to $10,000 in fines for any weapon assault on a peace officers.
The committee heard testimony from St. Croix Police Chief James Parris and Lt. Thomas Hannah, special assistant to the Police commissioner, who both said they are in full support of the proposed legislation in light of the recent increase of serious and violent assaults on police officers and other peace officers across the territory.
Committee Chairman Sen. Kenneth Gittens, who sponsored the bills regarding assaults, said he is concerned about that increase and recounted the more than a dozen officers who have been fired upon, wounded or killed in recent years at the hands of a criminal.
"In my 20 plus years I have never seen the territory in such a state, and something has to be done," he said.
Hannah said there is an attitude that officers being assaulted is just part of the job, but that mentality has to be dissolved. He said peace officers must be protected and respected, and he is hopeful that something will be done to punish those who attack them.
V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer was unable to attend the hearing, but in written correspondence, he said he was in support of the legislation to give police additional protection overall. However, changes also are needed regarding the penalties for assaults on peace officers that do not include using a weapon, he wrote.
The committee also heard testimony in support of Bill No. 30-0164, which enhances the penalties for anyone who commits an assault against employees of the Education Department while they are on the job, before forwarding that bill to the Rules and Judiciary for further consideration and discussion.
Gittens, during discussion about the bill, cited the March 12 assault on a monitor at Claude O. Markoe School that left her hospitalized.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes expressed regret that proposing such legislation is needed and said it is a sign of the times and how society has devolved.
"School used to be a safe haven, but it is no more," he said.
The committee also voted to forward to the Rules Committee an act to amend local law by adding protection for spouses who are the victims of actions that constitute rape or unlawful sexual contact in aggravated domestic violence instances, as well as an act changing local law by adding definitions of sexual conduct and sexual contact. Both bills were sponsored by Sanes.
Committee members present were Gittens, Sanes and Senators Clarence Payne III, Craig Barshinger, Judi Buckley, Alicia Hansen and Tregenza Roach.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.