A bill aiming to increase penalties for those convicted of attempting to murder a peace officer has been introduced at the Legislature.
State Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) and Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) announced the Matson Strong Bill on Thursday morning with the goal of strengthening state criminal penalties against individuals convicted of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer, judge, prosecutor or correctional officer. The legislation would increase the minimum sentence from 20 years to life incarceration.
Four bipartisan senators have signed on to co-sponsor the bill so far and it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee to review as the first step in the legislative process.
The bill has been championed by Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius alongside Arik Matson, the Waseca police officer who was shot in the line of duty last year, and his wife Megan.
While responding to a report of a suspicious person on Jan. 6, 2020, Matson was shot in the head and critically wounded by Tyler Robert Janovsky. Janovksy also shot at Waseca Officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Timothy Schroeder during the incident.
In July, Janovsky pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of Matson and one count of attempted murder of Harren and Schroeder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison in November. State law requires Janovsky to serve at least two-thirds of his sentence with the remainder potentially being served on supervised release. Cornelius and Arik and Megan Matson agreed the time does not fit the crime, and announced immediately after the sentencing of Janovsky that they intended to change the state law that dictates that maximum sentencing.
“After prosecuting the case for the attempted murder of Officers Arik Matson, Officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Tim Schroeder, it was clear there was a glaring gap in our current statutes,” Cornelius said Thursday during a press conference in the Minnesota Senate. “We provided for higher penalties for murder of police officers, but there was no similar increase in penalties for attempted murder.”
In December, both Jasinski and Petersburg committed to authoring the bill and carrying it through their respective chambers during the 2021 legislative session, which began on Jan. 4. Both men emphasized on Thursday that the bill provides deterrence for anyone to possibly consider going after a peace officer.
“When perpetrators of a crime use deadly force, I believe they are intending to cause great bodily harm and even death,” Petersburg said. “This is a dangerous profession, and it is our duty to do what we can to provide as much protection for our law enforcement safety and provide deterrence against violence against them. I think it is time we tell our law enforcement we support them and have their backs.”
Jasinski said support for this bill is necessary to make the justice system more balanced.
“We know [law enforcement] jobs are uniquely dangerous and the legal system is going to weigh more heavily when prosecuting these criminals,” Jasinski said. “This is a common sense, pro-public safety bill that treats law enforcement officers with the respect and honor they deserve. Any attempt on an officer’s life must be met with punishment that matches the heinousness of the crime.”
Also joining the the press conference were Brian Peters, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, and Jim Mortenson, executive director of the Law Enforcement Labor Services which represents the Waseca Police Department union. Both men spoke about the unnerving uptick in law enforcement being shot at by perpetrators over the last year.
“Officer Arik Matson served his community well to protect them from harm, he is the definition of a true American hero,” Mortenson said. “The least we can do for him and every other officer is to pass this legislation that adequately holds violent criminals accountable for their actions.”
Arik and Megan addressed the group, thanking them for their support in their effort to make changes to the law and hopefully help future families who face situations similar to theirs. It is unfortunately an effort that will be needed down the line, Arik said.
“I wish I could say this would be the last time we have to prosecute this crime, but that is unfortunately probably not going to be the case,” Arik said. “Thank you for acknowledging that our jobs as police officers are never normal and that we have a number of circumstances that can go wrong and be very tragic.”
In addition to increasing the sentencing for attempted murder of an officer, Cornelius said the bill will also eliminate the two-thirds, one-third rule, which states offenders could be eligible for supervised probation after serving two-thirds of their prison sentence. Instead, offenders would have to serve a minimum of 30 years before becoming eligible for release.
“This legislation fixes that and gives prosecutors in Minnesota another tool in the toolbox to pursue violent criminals,” Cornelius said.