Hitting a Cop With a Pretzel Will Still Be a Felony

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the pieces of the criminal justice reform package that caused some consternation on this blog has been killed in a House committee. SB 5032 (Surovell, D-Fairfax) would have amended the statute that makes assault of a public safety employee, including a law-enforcement officer, a felony, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. (Assault generally is a misdemeanor.)

As the bill emerged from the Senate, it included the following provisions:

  • The felony charge was retained;
  • The mandatory minimum sentence was eliminated;
  • If the degree of culpability were slight, e.g. offender was mentally ill, or if there were no bodily injury, a jury or judge could find the offender guilty of misdemeanor assault, rather than felony assault. (Such a reduction in the charge would be discretionary on the part of the jury or judge.), and
  • The incident would have to be investigated by another law-enforcement officer not involved and any arrest approved by the Commonwealth’s attorney.

According to a report in the Daily Press, the opponents of the bill focused on the possible exemption for a situation involving no bodily injury. Wayne Huggins, the executive director of the Virginia State Police Association, pointed out that, just because there was no bodily injury, it did not mean none was intended. He argued, “Through our defensive tactics training, if we are able to, say, block a punch, somebody throws a punch at us, or somebody swings an object at us, and we were able to block it and not get injured,” that person should face the same charge “as the person who does connect with a punch or a blunt force object.”

That argument echoes one posed by Jim Bacon in these pages. A person may throw a brick at law enforcement officers and miss. No bodily injury occurred, but the officers were put in danger of being seriously injured.

The House Courts of Justice Committee seemed to be troubled enough by the patron’s arguments for the bill and the possible ramifications of changes that it decided to kill the bill, but also refer it to the Crime Commission for further study.  As Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, explained, “We need to get it right.”

My Soapbox

It seems that giving a jury or judge the discretion to find the accused person guilty of a felony or misdemeanor if she had a diminished physical or mental capacity or pervasive developmental disorder, or if there were no bodily injury to the law-enforcement officer would meet the objections of the opponents of the bill, as well as address the points raised in this blog. However, Mr. Huggins and some members of the committee seemed to have ignored this aspect of the bill and contended that the absence of bodily injury would be enough to avoid the felony charge. Rather, the burden would have been on the defendant to convince the judge or jury to reduce the charge.

I suspect that the Democrats on the committee, in light of the other police reforms they are pushing, were overly wary of being painted as being “anti-police.” Also, there may have been some undercurrents of House-Senate tension among Democrats at play here, which would be difficult for the public to detect.

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24 responses to “Hitting a Cop With a Pretzel Will Still Be a Felony

  1. The amendments to the original bill seem reasonable to me. Throwing a pretzel at a police officer should not be a felony. Judges and juries should be given a discretion to reduce penalties depending upon the circumstances.

  2. I used to watch a show on A&E called “Live PD”. It had an interesting format. The show was aired live and followed police in around eight different jurisdictions as they went about their patrols. When something interesting happened the show would cut to a live feed of the the police interacting with the public. Lots of DUI stops, occasionally “shots fired”. Now the police knew they were being filmed so they were understandably on their best behavior. But the people being stopped by the police usually saw the cameramen too and knew they were being filmed. I’d say at least a third of those stopped, perhaps a half, treated the police terribly. Insults, accusations, screaming, charges of racism … all over a traffic stop. I’m sure the show’s producers featured these interactions since they provide good theater but any given policeman would end up with one or two such incidents per shift.

    In the aftermath of the George Floyd protests / riots A&E canceled Live PD. The network suffered a huge ratings decline after the cancellation. Live PD was its flagship show.

    First, I have no idea why showing actual interactions between the police and the public is somehow bad. A&E never really explained its decision to cancel. Second, the routine level of verbal abuse toward the police is shocking. I guess some significant percentage of the public sees the police as doormats for whatever issues they want to vent.

    If we really want the police to be thick skinned in the face of the kind of verbal abuse that was routinely displayed on Live PD then they need some protection from any physical abuse – even throwing a pretzel.

    • I have always avoided those types of shows (and all “reality” shows, for that matter) because I felt the folks being filmed were largely performing for the camera. Everybody wants to be on TV and to be a star.

  3. What about hitting a pretzel with a cop?

  4. Hard, or soft? I mean, a good Synder’s hard sourdough could do some damage.

  5. Baconator with extra cheese

    My local community officer spoke about body cameras at our community policing meeting. He said he couldn’t wait to get his because of the abuse he took everyday. Spitting, kicking, slurs, etc…
    He also warned the crowd who wanted everyone to wear a bodycam… I live in a minority neighborhood and this was right after Eric Garner was killed and the crowd was aggressive towards him… that “remember that video footage will live forever and will show you at your worst on your worst day for the whole world to see…
    Funny thing was the amount of hell the crowd gave him at that meeting. He was a black guy in his 50s at the time and the crowd treated him like he was Robert Byrd circa 1951. He wrote me a recommendation to get into the local citizen police academy…. that was an eye-opening experience but well worth the effort.

  6. In all seriousness, it looks like they may have reached a reasonable compromise on this issue.

  7. This is Not about Pretzels.

    The Democratic Party loves to condone and encourage bad and abusive behaviors by its base supporters in support of the Democrats’ political agenda, particularly so against police officers charged with upholding law and order, and those of us who are not Democrats, most particularly those among us who will not raise their fist or voice on demand by Democrats in support of Democrats.

    This bad behavior by the Democratic Party grew out of the success of the heckler’s veto used by Democrats to shut down free speech and expression by those targeted by the Democratic Party or their allied goons and true believers. The heckler’s veto has now rapidly grown in scope and abuse to include forcing others by threat and intimidation in public and private spaces to act and behave in ways that are demanded by Democrats. Hence the onrush in America of a leftist and lawless state increasingly “run” by anarchists often funded and organized by demagogues. This is not about Pretzels.

  8. The Senate killed some House bills (Bourne’s for one) and now the “favor” has been returned. Another day at the General Assembly. You can think it is more than that, but my experience says…naaah.

    Interesting day for this to come up. Just watched the Kentucky AG do his news conference on the grand jury decision to indict nobody for shooting Breona Taylor, but to indict one cop for foolishly missing so badly he fired into the other apartment….Not pretzels. They did knock, they did announce, her boyfriend admitted firing first and that kinda ended that. But there are no charges against the boyfriend who fired first (well there were and they dropped them) which tells me a jury would likely conclude he might indeed have not known who was busting in.

  9. “They did knock, they did announce, her boyfriend admitted firing first and that kinda ended that.”

    As it should have, in my opinion.

  10. re: ” They did knock, they did announce, her boyfriend admitted firing first and that kinda ended that.”

    Yep, and it don’t matter about your silly 2A “rights’. You refuse to put your weapon down when told and they WILL kill you and they will be justified.

    Law & Order.. dontcha know…

    • Even if you’re sleeping…

      • Both he and she were standing in the hall when the first officer entered, and her boyfriend was in a shooting stance. He then fired and connected with his first shot. A barrage of return fire…. Now, just ’cause they were awake and out of bed they might not have understood it was cops. Or he might have. As always with these things, the evidence won’t change minds. Nobody probably sleeps in Louisville tonight.

    • There is no 2nd Amendment [or any other] right to shoot at police officers who are lawfully serving a warrant and there never has been.

  11. so on a no-knock , if you defend against an unknown, you are dead anyhow?

    If a despotic govt was coming for you, isn’t this how it would work?

    Funny how this twists and turns..

    so it was NOT a no-knock? If so, what’s the big deal?

    • It was clearly not a no-knock warrant. That has been put down since the initial reports. But as with “hands up don’t shoot” the lie will live on forever. The AG (not a white guy, remember) said the evidence was clear they were told to knock and announce in their orders, they did knock and announce, others in the building heard it. The Failed New York Times had a witness on an upper floor who heard it. (Its reporter in the news conference was incredulous that perhaps another witness was found that she hadn’t found first….)

      The federal investigation is ongoing. None of these three officers had anything to do with obtaining the warrant, they were just tasked with executing it. It was a half-assed job on the department’s part, no question. The cop who was indicted for firing blind was the one who had already been fired for the same reckless behavior.

      • Other in the building. The upstairs neighbor.

        I thought I heard his endangerment indictments stem from rounds fired into the next unit.

        • Yes. Those people are also suing the city. As they should. I don’t think the LMPD is in the clear.

          • Also, in the conference, the DA(?) said they were unable to determine how many shots each officer fired. That’s kinda bothersome. I mean, how hard can that be?

          • There are problems with their narrative… same old same old.. police cannot be held accountable… even if there are screwups.

            a hail of bullets but they got no forensics?

            No cameras… This is not good.

            You cannot do this – and have people maintain trust.

            This is the problem. Either the police don’t care or don’t know how to deal with it properly. Either way – this undermines people’s trust and especially so people of color.

          • Frank Drew Va Beach Sheriff a few years back was a VB cop for years. One time, just after an incident, we were fishing and he was telling me about the shooting.

            Three or four cops pulled up and the homeowner pops out on the porch with a shotgun and fires. The cops fired so many rounds that the house suffered major structural damage.
            Frank said, “They should fire every cop.”
            “Why, he shot first?”
            “They missed him. Not one hit from less than 50 feet.”

          • I’m not arguing that the Dodge City mentality is not totally out of hand. It is. When the whole story is told this incident will continue to smell. But if a cop is fired upon, his training is fire back and shoot to kill. If the third cop was in bad firing position, aiming toward the next door neighbors, that might also be a flaw in the plan, ya think? How close Ms. Taylor was to the shooter was not explicit, but sounds like she was standing right beside…

            I thought I heard him mention a specific number of rounds for each officer.

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