Area lawmakers want more charges for rioting and looting following Columbus protests

Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton.

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Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton.

A pair of southwest Ohio lawmakers want to strengthen the laws in situations that involve riots or looting with a new criminal charge while protecting the First Amendment rights of peaceful protestors.

State Reps. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, and Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, introduced House Bill 784 this week that would create a new riot assault charge if a person engaged in an aggravated riot recklessly causes physical harm that is punishable by a fifth-degree felony. Charges would elevate to a fourth-degree felony if the alleged assault is against a law enforcement officer and a third-degree felony if the law enforcement officer is seriously injured.

The bill also increases penalties for vandalizing property and obstructing roadways during a disorderly assembly.

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“It’s a small faction that wants to cause destruction and stir up things, and really they’re ruining the message (of those) who want to peacefully protest," said Carruthers, who was re-elected to a second term in Columbus earlier this month. "We have protesters on a regular basis here at the Statehouse and they’re fine. This (bill addresses) a completely different thing.”

Abrams was an officer on the Cincinnati police force during the April 2001 riots following the shooting death of Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old Black man who was unarmed when shot by a police officer.

“I lived it," she said. "(Police officers are) out there protecting everyone peacefully protesting because that’s a First Amendment right and we’re happy to be able to do that. But when someone makes the decision to throw that brick, or fire a gun into the crowd, at a police officer or whatever, that’s where you ramp it up to a whole other level of not peaceful.”

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Abrams and Carruthers started to work on the bill after rioting occurred in Columbus as people protested the killing of George Floyd.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones backs the bill “100 percent.”

“It’s a start, and when you do something like this, you have to start and take baby steps,” he said. “This is important that they have the courage to bring this up and get it passed.”

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Abrams said people agree that the destruction of property is unacceptable, and Carruthers said those acts “detract from the message of those who peacefully protest.”

“Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are important cornerstones of our democracy,” Abrams said. “This legislation embraces the right of all Americans to peacefully assemble and make their voice heard in the public arena while supporting first responders, law enforcement, small businesses and law-abiding Ohioans.”

The lawmakers hope the bill is fast-tracked during the General Assembly’s lame-duck session as they see this as a bipartisan bill. Only Republicans have signed onto the bill as of Wednesday, and the bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

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