CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate is considering a bill, named after Charleston Patrolman Cassie Johnson, that would increase penalties for those who cause the death of a police officer or any other first responder.
SB 490, the Patrol Officer Cassie Marie Johnson Memorial Act, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday following powerful testimony from Johnson’s mother Sheryl Johnson and Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt.
The bill would add a 15-year to life sentence with mercy for anyone who causes the death of an officer. That includes security officers, firefighters and EMS personnel.
“Every morning I wake up and I realize my daughter is not here anymore,” Sheryl Johnson told committee members.
Officer Johnson, 28, was murdered in Dec. 2020 after responding to a parking complaint on Garrison Avenue. Joshua Phillips was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison last year.
Johnson said Phillips was a bad person who wanted to end her daughter’s life.
“He had no malice. He had no premeditation. The minute he laid his hands on her gun, he knew he was going to kill her, but the jury just couldn’t see that,” she said.
Johnson said Cassie was a good police officer and didn’t deserve to die.
“Everything she did was by the book. She did it right. She wasn’t mean. She wasn’t disrespectful. She was trying to do her job,” she said.
Chief Tyke Hunt urged lawmakers to stiffen the penalties in these types of situations so that officers can feel protected on the streets.
“We are not out there looking to put folks in prison for a minimum of 15 years every day, but what we are asking help with is to let the bad actors know that there is a stiffer consequence for obstructing the law,” Hunt said.
Hunt said this legislation could prevent people from committing these violent acts.
“This law on the books would hopefully act as a deterrent to save folks’ lives,” he said.
Senator Mike Stuart (R-Kanawha) spoke in favor of the bill, but said the penalty doesn’t go far enough. He believes West Virginia needs to consider the death penalty.
“I understand there are some that are cautious, but 27 states have the death penalty and I think it’s time that we have this discussion in West Virginia,” Stuart said.
The bill heads to the full Senate for consideration.