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VA House Hears From Widows Opposed To Defelonizing Assault On Police

photo of snowy capitol building
FILE PHOTO (Louise Keeton/VPM)

Virginia lawmakers are holding committee meetings meant to inform legislators about who will be filing police reform bills for the August 18 special session. On Wednesday, a joint committee heard from two widows of police officers who are opposed to a proposal to defelonize assault on police. 

Although the bill has not yet been filed, reducing the penalty for assaulting a law enforcement officer from a felony to a misdemeanor is on a list of priorities Senate Democrats released last month. Under current state law, the crime is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail. 

Jamie Walter, who’s husband was a Virginia State Police special agent killed in Richmond in 2017, said she thinks the measure would remove accountability for criminals.

“As an everyday citizen that chooses to do right and do things that I’m supposed to do, I feel like changing this law for our law enforcement not only would be unjust, but then would not hold those accountable,” she said.

Walter said she knows all about accountability. She fought to ensure that people who kill a law enforcement officer receive a mandatory life sentence last year. Senate Democrats say serious assaults would still be treated as felonies under future legislation.

The committee also heard from widow Michelle Dermeyer. Her husband, Virginia State Trooper Chad Dermeyer, was killed in the line of duty in 2016.

Dermeyer linked the effort to defelonize assault on officers to what she sees as ongoing vilification of police. 

“If this war on law enforcement continues and elected leaders do nothing to support these men and women, the reality is that law enforcement officers will walk away from their profession because it just won’t be worth it anymore,” Dermeyer said. “There will be no one applying for law enforcement positions because, honestly, why would you?”

Proponents of the proposal, like Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), say the existing punishments for assaulting police are too harsh. They point to state data showing that most incidents do not result in serious injury to the officer.