Bill would make obstructing police, ‘causing death’ a felony

February 10, 2023 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Senate on Friday passed a bill that would make interfering with a police officer and causing their death a felony punishable by up to life in prison.

The bill calls for the same possible penalties as a murder conviction. The distinction is the bill doesn’t require the state to prove the traditional elements of murder, which include premeditation or malice, said Morgan County Republican Sen. Charles Trump.

“If you do it, we’re not going to hear you in court say, ‘I didn’t mean for anybody to die,’” Trump said. “It doesn’t matter. You will be treated under the law as if you planned and intended that death.”

The bill comes in the midst of a national uproar over police brutality prompted by the fatal beating last month of Tyre Nichols by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee.

The West Virginia bill, which has 18 co-sponsors, passed on a 31-0 vote, with three senators absent. It now goes to the House of Delegates.

The bill does not explain what would constitute obstruction. It is named after Charleston Patrol Officer Cassie Johnson, who was fatally shot in December 2020 as she was responding to a parking complaint.

The bill would allow for parole after 15 years in prison. It also applies to probation, parole and corrections officers, courthouse security, firefighters and emergency medical service workers, and fire marshal employees.

Joshua Phillips, of Charleston, was sentenced last year to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder in Johnson’s death. He also got six more months for drug possession.

A resident had said that Phillips parked his sport utility vehicle on her property, according to a police complaint.

Prosecutors said Johnson, 28, was worried about her safety because Phillips had pulled a gun, prevented Johnson from getting to her service revolver and struggled with her before shots were fired.

Phillips fired six shots, according to testimony at the trial. Johnson was shot in the neck.