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Committee OKs bill that would add 'targeting' an officer to aggravated murder statute

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SALT LAKE CITY — The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday recommended a bill that would include the targeting of a police officer with a list of acts of mass destruction that qualify a homicide as aggravated murder.

HB 433, sponsored by Rep. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, also adds language to Utah code that defines the targeting of a law enforcement officer as "unlawful use of force and violence" against said officer, "causing serious bodily injury or death in furtherance of political or social objectives in order to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government."

American Civil Liberties Union representative Anna Thomas raised concerns about the bill, saying it was redundant under current state law and "does very little to benefit our law enforcement officers."

"In Utah, it's not necessary," Thomas said. "We can (already) seek enhancements against people who murder law enforcement officers, as we should."

Existing Utah law provides numerous conditions under which a homicide can be classified as aggravated murder.

Those include instances in which "the victim is or has been a peace officer, law enforcement officer, executive officer, prosecuting officer, jailer, prison official, firefighter, judge or other court official, juror, probation officer, or parole officer, and the victim is either on duty or the homicide is based on, is caused by, or is related to that official position, and the actor knew, or reasonably should have known, that the victims holds or has held that official position."

Ray defended his bill by talking of instances elsewhere in the country in which "somebody specifically goes out with the intent of killing a police officer because they're a police officer."

He said he wanted to make it clear that such malicious motives have the attention of the law in Utah.

"It was said (by the ACLU) that this bill is premature," Ray said. "But we don't want to wait until this happens."

Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, asked Ray for clarification on what "burden of proof" would be required with regard to whether someone met the listed criteria of targeting an officer. Ray said a person's social media posts, emails, search histories and "even a direct statement from that individual" would be reviewed in determining whether the officer was targeted.

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, representing the Utah Police Chiefs Association, backed the bill, noting ambush attacks on police officers in the United States have had a chilling effect on the carrying out of their responsibilities.

"Officers are concerned and scared about the ambush attacks that we've been seeing increasingly across the country," Ross said. "That fear really does affect their day-to-day job and makes them want to pull back."

Rep. Angela Romero, D-West Valley City, said she was concerned about the portion of the bill that enacts a definition for "targeting a law enforcement officer," saying it was too broad and could lead to targeting of protesters.

"You could potentially see a scenario ... where someone's actions during a demonstration or protest were a subject of debate" with regard to the definition, she said.

The measure passed 8-3. Email: Twitter: @benlockhartnews

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