State Senate approves Wilding measure; now moves to House

·5 min read

Oct. 28—WILKES-BARRE — State Rep. Gerald Mullery Wednesday said that every day, police officers put their lives on the line to protect the public, and he will advocate House leadership to promptly consider and pass Bill 814 that was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

"I fully support Senate Bill 814 and thank my Senate colleagues for honoring Officer (John) Wilding's ultimate sacrifice in their passage of this legislation," said Mullery, D-Newport Township. "We have a responsibility to protect Pennsylvania's law enforcement community."

The legislation that was introduced by Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, and Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Scranton, in honor of fallen Scranton police officer John Wilding, received bipartisan support after being amended on the Senate floor and receiving a vote of 36-14 on final passage.

Senate Bill 814 would strengthen the crimes code by adding penalties for fleeing an officer by foot to evade arrest. The bill will now be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Six years ago, Scranton Police Officer John Wilding lost his life in pursuit of suspects, who fled the crime scene to evade arrest.

"Officer Wilding gave his life in service to the citizens of Scranton and our great Commonwealth, and Senate Bill 814 ensures that his life will forever be honored by protecting the men and women of law enforcement with the addition of a new offense, evading arrest on foot, as a felony offense in the crimes code," Yudichak said.

Flynn said he is thankful to his colleagues in the Senate for honoring Officer Wilding's ultimate sacrifice and for overwhelmingly supporting Senate Bill 814.

"We have an opportunity here — a responsibility, even — to better protect Pennsylvania's law enforcement officers and make it clear that we have their backs," Flynn said. "So I urge my counterparts in the House of Representatives to promptly consider and pass this bill."

Wilding died on July 12, 2015 as a result of injuries he sustained in the line of duty.

When individuals flee from police officers attempting to lawfully place them under arrest, they create a risk of harm not just to police, but to innocent bystanders and themselves.

Existing statute currently prohibits fleeing from an officer in a vehicle and struggling with an officer attempting to place an individual under lawful arrest, however the statute is silent with respect to fleeing an officer on foot and placing the officers or innocent bystanders at risk of injury.

Senate Bill 814 will create a new offense of "Evading Arrest or Detention by Foot." It's modeled after a similar statute in the state of Texas.

"I am very pleased that the Officer John Wilding legislation is moving toward becoming a law within the Commonwealth," said Mark Powell, Lackawanna County District Attorney. "While someone who flees police in a vehicle can be charged with a crime because of the danger it poses for the pursuing officer, it can be just as dangerous for the officer when someone flees on foot, as we saw in the tragic case of Officer Wilding. This bill will keep our men and women in blue safer as they work to protect our communities."

Wilding was a 2004 graduate of Mid Valley Secondary Center in Throop and attended Pennsylvania State University. He was a 2012 graduate of the Act 120 Municipal Police Officers Training Program at Lackawanna College before joining the Scranton Police Department in April 2014.

"Pennsylvania law does not specifically cover foot pursuit leading to the injury or death of a member of law enforcement. Because of that my son, John, did not get the full justice he deserved," said Wilding's mother, Mary Wilding. "Thanks to a number of people, that gap in the law can now be rectified, and I would like to thank Senator Yudichak and Senator Flynn for introducing this new legislation. Hopefully, it will not only offer justice to those officers injured or killed in a foot pursuit, but will act as a deterrent to those who would put officers in harm's way.

"The night John was injured he was running to back up his fellow officers in a felony pursuit of three armed robbery suspects. He died less than 24 hours later. He was only 29 years old. This law is John's last chance to back up his fellow officers. He deserved better. All of our officers do."

Legislators support bill

Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, said the tragedy of Wilding's unfortunate death has led to the introduction of Senate Bill 814, which is now on its way to the House.

"As in the Senate, I believe it will receive bipartisan support when it arrives on the House floor," Boback said. "My deepest condolences go to the officer's family and friends."

Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, said he also supports the legislation.

"I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones, and I hope the bill will receive broad, bipartisan support in the state House," Kaufer said.

During the 2019-2020 legislative session, the previous version of the legislation unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. After receiving feedback from advocates and officers around the state, language was included to further provide for the protection of police animals in the event an individual is evading arrest.

"Our actions here today cannot change the past and the tragic loss of Officer Wilding," said Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township. "However this legislation does have the ability to better protect law enforcement in the future. Police officers risk their lives every day in service to our communities, and it is imperative that we help ensure strong laws are in place to fully protect police, and innocent bystanders, from reckless acts."

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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