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Ohio House passes bill increasing penalties for disobeying or distracting police

Anna Staver The Columbus Dispatch

“there are certainly times when individual police officers act in ways where we would want bystanders to intervene,” Leland said. “This bill not only strips bystanders of that power, it criminalizes the actions we would expect out of decent people seeing terrible things happen to their fellow citizens.”

The GOP-led Ohio House passed a bill to create new crimes around interfering with an officer and enhance penalties for existing crimes committed during protests that turned violent.

House Bill 22 cleared the Ohio House on a party-line vote of 61-32 and is headed to the Senate for consideration. 

Republicans said expanding the definition of obstruction of justice would better protect Ohio’s law enforcement officers. But Democrats said the bill would have let officers in Minnesota arrest bystanders who shouted at Derek Chauvin to get off George Floyd’s neck. 

“People shouldn’t be forced to stand idly by if they believe they’re witnessing a murder,” Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma said. 

Protection vs. intimidation

House Bill 22 would expand the crime of obstructing justice to include not following a lawful order, distracting an officer or getting within about an arm’s length of an officer without permission. 

Violating these statutes would be a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine. But the crime could rise to a fifth-degree felony if a person’s actions risked physical harm. The penalty would be up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.  

“This bill is not an anti-peaceful protest bill,” Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, said. “This bill simply aims to protect our law enforcement officers.”

Wilkin gave the example of an officer at a protest who is standing nose to nose with a protester when the crowd swells and pushes that protester into the cop. That’s a situation where things might escalate quickly, Wilkin said, but his bill could prevent it from happening by creating a bubble of space around the officer. 

“This is for the protection of both parties,” he said. 

But Democrats had examples of their own. 

Rep. Dave Leland, D-Columbus, said “diverting an officer’s attention” could mean shouting at a cop to stop what they were doing, questioning an officer’s actions or doing anything that might cause someone to turn their head in your direction. 

“I say all of this because there are certainly times when individual police officers act in ways where we would want bystanders to intervene,” Leland said. “This bill not only strips bystanders of that power, it criminalizes the actions we would expect out of decent people seeing terrible things happen to their fellow citizens.”

Read the original article here.

Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Akron Beacon Journal, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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