West Virginia Supreme Court justices who overturned a circuit court ruling against a man who threatened a police officer's family made it clear they do not condone such behavior. In fact, they suggested people who attempt to intimidate law officers and other public employees ought to be prosecuted.
As we have reported, the justices overturned a verdict in Marshall County Circuit Court against James Scott Yocum. He was convicted there of making a terrorist threat against the arresting officer's family. His graphic language included sexual references.
But the high court held Yocum should not have been prosecuted under the state's law against making terroristic threats. Yocum's statements did not fall under the West?Virginia Code definition of that offense, justices wrote.
Justices in the majority were not finished with the case, however. In a written opinion on the ruling, they added they "encourage both law enforcement and the prosecutors of this state to charge individuals" guilty of such action under another statute. It provides for sentences of as long as 10 years in prison, depending on the severity of the attempted intimidation or retaliation involved.
The court's ruling was not unanimous. Justice Brent Benjamin voted against it, then penned a scathing dissent message. He noted that because Yocum had been arrested for domestic violence, the officer involved had reason to be worried about the threats.
Benjamin seemed to be concerned the court majority's ruling sent the wrong message to people who would make threats against law enforcement officers and other public employees. Who can say? Thugs given to making such menacing comments seldom are known for their intellectual views on crime and punishment.
What they should understand is that the court was ruling on a fairly narrow question of law - not on whether justices excuse the threats made all too frequently against law enforcement officers. Again, justices in the majority made a clear suggestion such attempts at intimidation should be prosecuted and offenders punished.
Precisely. However they are defined under the law, threats against police officers and sheriff's deputies - or, worse, against their family members - are entirely unacceptable. Anyone making them should be prosecuted and punished severely.