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Penalties tougher for assaulting police

September 28, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

pepperb@herald-mail.com

An assault on a police dog in Maryland is a felony offense while an assault on a police officer is a misdemeanor. That inequality will change Oct. 1 when new state law takes effect making assaulting a police officer a felony.

In a press conference Tuesday morning at Hagerstown Police Department headquarters, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, announced that the Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act, signed into law by Gov. Robert Ehrlich in May, will make assaulting a police officer a felony offense, carrying a maximum 10 years in prison and/or a maximum $5,000 fine.

Donoghue said the bill that made it a felony to assault a police dog was passed in the Maryland General Assembly's 2001 legislative session.

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He said the law making an assault on police a felony charge "should have been done a long time ago, but it's done."

The next step, Donoghue said, is to make fleeing from an officer a felony offense.

Washington County District Court Commissioner Craig Clevenger said that an assault on a police officer is charged as second-degree assault, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Second-degree assault carries the same maximum sentence as the new charge, but has a lesser maximum fine of $2,500, he said.

The charge under the new law will read "assault second-degree/law enforcement officer" and is to be processed first in District Court, Clevenger said.

Hagerstown Police Department Capt. Jack Moulton said that over the past year, 30 assaults, seven of which resulted in injuries, have been recorded against the department's officers.

According to information provided by Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades, six deputies have been assaulted this year. In 2004, 20 assaults on deputies were recorded, he said.

Donoghue said that according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports statistics, 3,742 Maryland law enforcement officers were assaulted in the line of duty in 2003.

Donoghue said the felony designation will make it easier for judges to give tougher sentences and to place higher bails on those charged with the assault.

Moulton said a felony conviction carries more sanctions, such as preventing those convicted from carrying a firearm or making it harder for them to get light sentences if they are convicted of future crimes.

"There's no teeth in the law" now to assault an officer, Donoghue said. "This puts teeth in the law."

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