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Bill introduced to increase penalty for those who attempt to kill police

By Mike Stoll

Roughly one year after Waseca Police Officer Arik Matson was shot in the head while responding to a call of a suspicious person, a bill was introduced Thursday in the Minnesota Legislature that would increase the penalty for anyone who attempts to kill an officer.

The bill, authored by Sen. John Jasinski (R-24) and Rep. John Petersburg (R-24A), would require a person convicted of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer to serve a minimum of 30 years in prison. The bill also applies to anyone who attempts to kill a judge, prosecutor or correctional officer.

Arik Matson

During a press conference, Jasinski called the bill “common sense.”

“Any attempt on an officer’s life must be met with a punishment that matches the heinous crime,” he said.

Matson, who was present at the press conference with his wife, Megan, suffered severe injuries the night he was shot and has faced a long recovery. The shooter, Tyler Robert Janovsky, was sentenced in November to two consecutive terms of 20 years and 15 years in prison for two counts of felony first-degree attempted murder – peace officer, with credit for 306 days served.

Under Minnesota’s current sentencing guidelines, the maximum penalty for felony first-degree attempted murder – peace officer – is 20 years in prison. Minnesota also has a two-thirds rule in which criminals sentenced to prison must serve a minimum of two-thirds of their sentence before they are eligible for release.

Janovsky was sentenced to the additional 15 years because he also fired shots at Waseca Officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Timothy Schroeder during the Jan. 6 incident.

Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius, who prosecuted the case, noted that if Janovsky had not fired at Harren and Schroeder, he might only have to serve 14 years in prison because of the two-thirds rule.

“When I prosecuted this case, there was a clear gap in the sentencing guideline,” she said, noting that the current law does not take into account the difficulties of injured officers.

Under the proposed bill, perpetrators would not be eligible for the two-thirds rule.

Matson’s wife, Megan, said she reached out to Cornelius about how justice could be served for other families of police officers wounded by criminals. She said Cornelius told her that for that to happen, the law would have to be changed.

“As a couple, we believe there is a purpose to why the Lord chose Arik that night,” Megan said. “We’re turning a tragic event that happened into something purposeful.”

She credited Cornelius and Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association Executive Director Brian Peters with helping get her in touch with the right people.

Peters called upon legislators to provide bipartisan support, citing recent incidents of police being shot at, including a Thursday morning incident involving a Minneapolis police officer.

“What we’ve seen over the last year is unacceptable when it comes to people shooting at our law enforcement,” he said.  “I’m here to ask that we make the penalty stronger for this offense, and that’s what this bill does.”

Petersburg, who has family in law enforcement, said that he believed anytime a perpetrator of a crime uses violent force, the intent is to cause bodily harm or death.

“We are here because of the sacrifice of Officer Matson,” he said. “We have a duty to do what we can to provide protection for law enforcement safety and provide deterrence. This bill will bring the consequences in line…”

Arik Matson, who was helped to the podium by his wife, thanked the bill’s authors and sponsors for acknowledging the challenges and circumstances police officers deal with on a daily basis.

“Thank you for all of the support and kind prayers from everybody,” he said.

“Passing this bill would mean a lot to us,” Megan Matson said. “It would feel like a big thank you to the men and women who helped Arik along the way.

“There will never be enough justice, but this is a start.”

District 27 Sen. Gene Dornink, R-Hayfield, said he was proud to co-author the bill.  

“We are extremely grateful for Minnesota’s police officers, judges, prosecutors, and correctional officers, and we need to do what we can to protect those whose duty it is to protect us,” Dornink said.