Virginia Lawmakers Vote To Downgrade Assault On Police To A Misdemeanor

Sandy Malone

Richmond, VA – The Virginia state senate voted on Wednesday to pass a controversial new measure that downgrades assault on a police officer to a misdemeanor.

The new legislation will make it a misdemeanor to attack a law enforcement officer in Virginia as long as the officer in not injured by the assault, WSLS reported.

The text of Virginia Senate Bill 2032 said it “eliminates the mandatory minimum term of confinement for an assault and battery committed against a judge; magistrate; law-enforcement officer; correctional officer; person directly involved in the care, treatment, or supervision of inmates; firefighter; or volunteer firefighter or any emergency medical services personnel and provides that such crime can no longer be committed as a simple assault and must result in a bodily injury.”

There is currently a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for assaulting a police officer in Virginia, WSLS reported.

GOP lawmakers called the measure anti-police amidst a slew of police reforms in an omnibus bill under consideration by a special legislative session, the Virginia Mercury reported.

But Virginia Sheriff’s Association Executive Director John Jones said most of law enforcement’s concerns about Senate Bill 5030 had been addressed during negotiations.

“And there was a lot of stuff in there that we liked,” Jones told the Virginia Mercury.

A number of Virginia Democrats said they weren’t thrilled with the final version of the omnibus bill being considered because of some of the compromises that had been made.

“Overall, we really think that the Senate has moved in the right direction with this bill, but we’re not too thrilled with these recent changes because it does water down the effectiveness,” Virginia Coalition for Transforming Police member Kofi Annan told the Virginia Mercury.

For example, the section of the measure that would have stopped local law enforcement agencies from getting federal grants of military surplus equipment was narrowed to only prohibit grenade launchers, bayonets, and weaponized aircraft, boats, or vehicles.

Military rifles under .50 caliber and armored vehicles can still be granted to local police departments, the Virginia Mercury reported.

Jones said he wasn’t aware of any police departments who have actually used the items that the new law banned.

“No one I know of has a bayonet,” he said. “That was used in the Civil War.”

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga wasn’t happy with what appeared to be the final outcome of the police reform legislation and said the blanket ban on military surplus items should have been left alone, the Virginia Mercury reported.

Gastañaga was also furious that legislators had added a caveat on the ban on no-knock and nighttime search warrants that said police could have a search approved by a magistrate if a judge wasn’t available.

“That basically guts the requirement,” she complained to the Virginia Mercury.

Democrats were also angry that the ban on chokeholds was revised to allow the maneuver’s use when it “is immediately necessary to protect the law-enforcement officer or another person.”

“If they aren’t supposed to do these things unless they feel like they have to — that’s very subjective,” Annan said. “There’s now basically a back door for them to do the same things, and in the past, officers have been known to use those outs to be able to do whatever they wish.”

He told the Virginia Mercury that the new language simply preserved the status quo, but Republican lawmakers strongly disagreed.

“We’re telling police officers across the Commonwealth of Virginia we do not trust you,” Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain said. “We are here to defund the police, to put restrictions upon you. We are here to tell law enforcement that because cops in other states have done horrible unjustifiable things for which they deserve to go to prison that we are going to defund police here in Virginia.”

“We are going to reward the rioters and punish the cops,” Obenshain continued. “And it is wrong. It is wrong.”

Democrats pushed back and said nothing in the omnibus bill advocated defunding the police, the Virginia Mercury reported.

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