CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's governor on Monday signed a bill that makes interfering with a police officer and causing their death a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
The bill that passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature was named after Charleston Patrol Officer Cassie Johnson, who was fatally shot in December 2020 as she was responding to a parking complaint.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed the bill in his reception room before Johnson's family and two dozen Charleston police officers.
“Losing Cassie, it’s touched everybody’s heart,” Justice said.
The law, which is effective in June, calls for the same possible penalties as a murder conviction. The distinction is the bill doesn’t require the state to prove the traditional elements of murder, which include premeditation or malice.
The law comes in the midst of a national uproar over police brutality prompted by the fatal beating in January of Tyre Nichols by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee.
The bill did not explain what would constitute obstruction, although state code defines it as someone who threatens, or forcibly or illegally interferes with, impedes or hinders an officer acting in their official duties. It allows for parole after 15 years in prison. It also applies to probation, parole and corrections officers, as well as courthouse security, firefighters, emergency medical service workers and fire marshal employees.
Joshua Phillips, of Charleston, was sentenced last year to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder in Johnson's death. He also got six more months for drug possession.
A resident had said that Phillips parked his sport utility vehicle on her property, according to a police complaint.
Johnson, 28, was worried about her safety because Phillips had pulled a gun, prevented Johnson from getting to her service revolver and struggled with her before shots were fired, prosecutors said.
Phillips fired six shots, according to testimony at the trial. Johnson was shot in the neck.