Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker has launched a new push to ramp up the penalty for assaulting police officers with a bill his top public safety aid is calling “foolproof.”
The bill, set to be filed Wednesday, is similar to legislation Baker introduced after the murder of Officer Ronald Tarentino last spring in Auburn. The bill never made it to a vote in the state legislature.
Under current law, assault and battery of a police officer is a misdemeanor. In cases where cops sustain “serious bodily injury,” Governor Baker wants to increase the charge to a felony with a potential 10-year jail sentence, Fox 25 reports.
The change would enforce a mandatory minimum sentence of one year with the potential for up to a decade in prison, which is a major increase in the current maximum of two-and-a-half years.
“It would only rise to the level of felony if you beat someone to the point where you broke my arm, broke my jaw,” Chelsea police Chief Bryan Kyes told the Boston Herald. “Having that currently as only a misdemeanor, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
Lawmakers on Beacon Hill previously filed similar bills that were inspired in part by Tarentino’s killing during a traffic stop. The suspect, Jorge Zambrano, who was later shot and killed by police, had a history of arrests and assaults on police officers before his encounter with Tarentino.
The previous legislation faced difficulties, however, when civil libertarians argued that the bill would not have much of an effect and could give cops an excessive charge to hold over suspects who may unintentionally hurt an officer during a struggle.
“There are adequate protections already,” Rahsaan Hall, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts' racial justice program told lawmakers last July. “There’s already a penalty for assault and battery with serious bodily injury.”
Still, Baker has said he wants more protection for his officers than the active penalty.
“We’re trying to do a better job convincing them, [the] legislative lawmakers,” Public Safety Secretary Dan Bennett said. “This is the right bill at the right time.”