State bill would turn threatening police into felony

OLYMPIA — A Kennewick detective concerned for her safety after a suspect threatened to rape her testified Wednesday in Olympia for a bill that would make threatening a police officer a felony.

The personal verbal assault left Detective Mary Buchan fearful that the man would make good on his threats to hunt her down some day.

She traveled Wednesday to Olympia with Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller and Kennewick Detective Sgt. Jack Simington, who also was representing the state Fraternal Order of Police.

They spoke in favor of House Bill 1206, sponsored by Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, at the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. Sixteen other legislators have co-sponsored the bill.

Buchan's incident prompted Dahlquist to introduce the bill to boost current laws and give officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and corrections officers the same protections as judges.

"I think a lot of threats to police officers now are made solely to intimidate a person because he or she has chosen to be a police officer," Miller testified. "And it's the new type of threat and the new type of danger to police officers that I think makes this bill necessary."

Buchan told what happened to her in December 2009 when she was on patrol and sent to Kennewick General Hospital to take a 35-year-old DUI suspect to jail.

Buchan, a Kennewick officer since 2006, said nothing could have prepared her for the verbal threats she received.

The man became hostile and confrontational, so Buchan handcuffed him to the hospital bed.

She testified the suspect, who Buchan later learned had been arrested earlier that month on suspicion of trespassing and forcible sodomy, threatened to spit in her face and defecate on her.

She would learn to ignore the comments because they often are made simply to get a reaction from officers, but the threats escalated.

"He said he was going to find me, he was going to follow me home, he was going to have dinner with me and then he was going to F me," Buchan testified, adding that he also made gestures while continuing to talk about sexually assaulting her.

The suspect also made it a point to specifically know Buchan's name.

"When I returned home from work that evening, I was troubled by my encounter with him," she told the committee. "I truly felt as though he had some sort of fascination with me and that he would try to find me one day. I didn't feel his statements were made simply for reaction."

Buchan checked the phone book to make sure her name and address weren't in it, and admitted that the incident changed her life. She became anxious whenever someone knocked on her door or when her dog barked in the middle of the night. And she began sleeping with her gun beside her bed.

She said she knows that she's not the only officer who has been threatened by suspects, and they deal with the threats as part of the job.

"It truly is a shame that those subjects who make those types of threats toward us only take minor accountability for their words because they are just words, while I then have to continue to wait at my home, which now has been turned into a fortress, for the same subject to show up and follow through with those words."

Hohenberg told the committee that within the past 24 hours, 11 police officers had been shot in the United States and there has been an unfortunate increase in threats, assaults and murders of officers.

Miller acknowledged that a current law -- intimidating a public servant -- states the threat has to be done in an attempt to influence an action.

For example, the man who threatened Buchan would have had to try to intimidate her to avoid arrest, he said.

He said the change to the harassment law would provide the same protections that judges have, where prosecutors only have to prove a threat was made against the judge as part of his or her official job.

Michael Hanby, representing the Washington Defenders Association and the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, testified they oppose the bill primarily because it makes the crime a felony instead of a gross misdemeanor.

The ACLU of Washington also has expressed concerns about the law being too broad.

No vote is scheduled by the committee on the measure. If it passes, it moves on to the full House for consideration.

-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com