Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees and State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo testified Thursday at a senate committee bill hearing in support of legislation that would heighten protections for law enforcement officers assaulted in the line of duty.
Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, introduced legislation that would prohibit a district court commissioner from authorizing the pretrial release of a defendant charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer. Senate Bill 408 specifies that the defendant would have to be charged with first-degree assault or felony second-degree assault of a law enforcement officer.
Ready’s legislation, which does not presently have a companion bill in the House of Delegates, would require that the defendant be held without bond until they could go before a District Court judge.
“If nothing else it’s like a cooling-off period,” Ready told the Times.
“Our officers are asked to do a very dangerous job, they’re asked to deal with a lot of high-risk individuals,” DeLeonardo, who testified as both the Carroll County State’s Attorney and as president of Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee Thursday. “We are in situations where we see, at times as prosecutors, felony assault of police officers and literally they’ve been released by the commissioner before the officer is out of the hospital.”
The Maryland Judiciary, which submitted written testimony but did not speak to lawmakers Thursday, called the bill “unnecessary” because judicial officers — like court commissioners — evaluate defendants based on their risk to the community, flight risk and economic factors.
“The provisions in this bill remove the judicial officer’s discretion and ability to assess each individual defendant,” the state judiciary wrote. “In setting bail, judicial officers assess the myriad of facts and circumstances surrounding each case.”
DeWees echoed DeLeonardo’s account. In Carroll County Circuit Court over the summer a defendant punched a bailiff in the face, breaking his nose, before assaulting two courthouse deputes as he fled the building, DeWees told the lawmakers.
The man later assaulted two patrol deputies who detained him, the sheriff added.
“When he got to our detention center, [he] laughed at my correctional deputies and said he’d be out before we finished the paperwork and by golly he was right,” DeWees said, “because he was out before we finished the paperwork.”
DeWees denounced assault on law enforcement officers and said defendants accused of serious instances of such should be put before a higher authority — a District Court judge.
“This bill is narrowly drawn,” DeLeonardo said. “It’s not the push, it’s not the shove, or even the spitting on someone that we see. This bill would exclude all minor injuries, because it has to be a felony level.
“It also requires the commissioner to find probable cause, so it’s not just based on what the officer says,” DeLeonardo added. He compared the scenario to cases where a defendant violated a protective order, “we ask the commissioner to hold them.”
Ready introduced this bill in previous sessions, but it failed to pass. The Republican senator told the Times his previous bill failed because it never was “put on a list for a vote.”
“There may have been some skepticism about a special distinction for police relative to pretrial release,” he added.
DeWees, who told lawmakers he was assaulted various times as a Maryland State Police trooper, expressed frustration that Ready’s bill and similar legislation hadn’t been enacted before.
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“We come down here all the time and there’s legislation galore trying to hold us accountable,” he told the Times after the hearing. “But yet we don’t see a whole lot of accountability for things that affect us as far as people assaulting us.”