Washington, DC – Lawmakers are considering a new bill that would make murdering a law enforcement officer a potential federal offense punishable by life in prison or the death penalty in certain cases.
The “Sergeant Steve Owen Defending our Defenders Act” was introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) on Thursday, his office said in a press release.
U.S. Representative Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House, Cotton noted.
Under the proposed legislation, a defendant convicted of murdering a federal law enforcement officer in the line of duty “shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life.”
A suspect may be federally charged for murdering a state or local law enforcement officer in the line of duty in cases in which the suspect “travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the mail, telephone, radio, or television” with the intent to commit murder, or when the suspect “uses a weapon or instrument that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce to commit said offense,” according to the bill.
The legislation outlines aggravating factors the jury or judge would need to consider in determining whether a defendant convicted under the new law would be sentenced to death.
Aggravating factors include intent to ambush, advocating or promoting violence against law enforcement, or participation or affiliating with anarchist groups or other “violence promoting” organizations, according to the bill.
Murdering an officer “during organized anti-law enforcement officer activity” or while trying to “evade or otherwise prevent the law enforcement officer from carrying out a lawful arrest or other lawful authorized law enforcement activity” would also be aggravating factors when considering whether to impose a death sentence, the legislation reads.
Garcia said the proposed legislation was named in honor of slain Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Steve Owen, who was murdered in an execution-style shooting while responding to a burglary call in 2016, KHTS reported.
The gunman, 31-year-old Trenton Trevor Lovell, was out on parole and had two prior convictions when he killed the 53-year-old sergeant, according to National Review.
As Sgt. Owen was lying on the ground after initially being shot, Lovell stood over him and continued shooting him, KHTS reported.
Lovell was sentenced to life in prison in May of 2022 for the sergeant’s murder.
“I named this legislation in honor of a hero of the Antelope Valley, Sgt. Steve Owen, who was brutally murdered in 2016 while on duty,” Garcia said in the press release. “It is critical that we pass this legislation to ensure our law enforcement officers have the protection necessary to do their jobs effectively. The men and women who protect us every day deserve to know that we have their back.”
The congressman said this legislation is also necessary to help curb the surge of violence against those who protect and serve.
“The Defund the Police movement and soft-on-crime policies from the far-left have severely handicapped police officers’ ability to confront skyrocketing crime rates and have put these brave men and women in more danger than ever,” he wrote. “We must do more to take care of our heroic law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.”
Cotton said more needs to be done to support the officers who place their lives on the line every day.
“Law enforcement officers dedicate their lives to defending the rule of law and protecting their fellow citizens,” the senator wrote. “An attack on an officer is an attack on our democracy, and those criminals must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This bill will subject those who murder police to a punishment they deserve, life in prison or the death penalty.”
The National Association of Police Organizations, the Major County Sheriffs of America, Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, Heritage Action for America, Los Angeles Police Protective League, and the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations have all endorsed the proposed bill, according to the press release.