Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport
Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport

A group of Mississippi lawmakers is making moves to pass legislation that would intensify the penalties for those convicted of assaulting or murdering law enforcement officers.

State Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, and Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, announced on Wednesday they are drafting a bill seeking to do just that. The legal department in the Senate is working on it now, Moran said, and their intentions are to pre-file the bill ahead of the 2017 session, which begins in January.

Tindell, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary A committee, said there is currently a 20- to 30-year penalty cap on aggravated assault of a police officer. If the bill passes, anyone convicted of aggravated assault could be given more time. Killing a police officer is already a capital offense punishable by the death penalty.

The move comes on the heels of murders of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas following growing tension over shootings of black men by law enforcement officers.

“It would be a hate crime if it is specifically targeting law enforcement officers – that is by definition a hate crime, and one that should be provided tougher penalties and additional scrutiny,” Tindell said.

Under Mississippi’s current hate crime law, any felony or misdemeanor committed because of “the actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, natural origin or gender” is subject to enhanced penalties.

Louisiana earlier this year passed a similar law expanding the state’s hate crime statute to cover law enforcement officers. It was the first to add police officers as a class protected under the law, The Washington Post reported.

Louisiana’s House Bill 953 amended state statute saying it is illegal for anyone to select a victim of a crime based on a list of characteristics, including race, age, sexual orientation or “because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization, or because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter …”

“What sparked it is the events that have taken place in the last few weeks – the outright murdering and attempted murders that have taken place on our law enforcement officials,” Moran said of the decision to move quickly on the bill. “There’s this feeling across America that is enough is enough and this has to stop. We’re certainly hoping this will at least shed some more light to it and get some folks’ attention.”

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said he also considered filing a similar bill after being contacted by several constituents, including Bay St. Louis councilman Mike Favre.

“I took a couple of days and looked into what it would entail. … It looks like this might be a good idea because for something less than murder like assault perpetrated against a police officer, it could double the penalties and serve as a deterrent,” Baria said.

Baria said he would be happy to support Moran’s bill if “it’s well drafted and does what is needed.”

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.

4 replies on “Police officers could be protected class under hate crime law”

  1. It’s a terrible idea. Would our legislation also include race, age, sexual orientation as does Louisiana’s statute (and thereby for the first time have *any* State law that protected those classifications)? Or maybe we could just make it illegal to assault or murder anybody for any hate motivation (perhaps assaults on annoying or ugly people). It’s all hate-motivated, isn’t it? The laws we have already provide that simple assault on an officer, fireman, teacher, bus driver, state legislator, and several more I can’t now recall, all constitute a felony punishable up to 5 years in prison. Aggravated assault can get that to 20-30 years. I’ve had the experience of getting a jury conviction for simple assault reversed on appeal where my client had been convicted for hitting an officer even though that very officer said he was not hit and that’s not what happened. It was a jury decision that was an improper compromise decision because my client was causing trouble but was not going to be convicted on the actual charge and they weren’t going to just let him go since he wasn’t charged with disorderly conduct as he should have been. And then there’s the death penalty beyond which, to make it more of a deterrent I guess, in addition to actually killing him, we could also sentence the defendant to be dug back up, drawn and quartered, hung from posts, then burned and reburied. That’d show him! Here’s an idea. Reform policing. Weed out the thugs, psychos, and deadly idiots. Instill in law enforcement that vanished notion of having respect for the citizenry. Poor whites as well as African-Americans. Do something that says to the ordinary citizen that at least in this State, law enforcement cares for and respects all citizens, is here to serve and protect all citizens, is also part of the citizenry, and that donning the uniform isn’t the means of becoming a protected elite class above and unanswerable to the common citizenry. And when someone does assault or kill an officer, this would be nice: a fully funded judiciary; a fully funded statewide indigent defense system; and, a fully funded and professional prosecutor’s system that works for justice (not for scores) and will be equally diligent about going after that perpetrator as after officers who assault or kill a citizen. One last thing we need: an abuse of office or position statute. I think Texas has a nice one that makes it a crime for a public official or officer to abuse his or her position or to oppress a citizen.

  2. Would be one of the most abused laws to date. Would make all of the citizens of MS. victims. To fail to include capitol punishment for officers who violate their oath of office would allow ramped use of this law and with the already corrupt officers getting away with committing atrocities to citizens with impunity it would empower them to do even more!

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