PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – Peekskill Police Chief Eugene Tumolo was among those who came out Monday in support of a witness intimidation bill being sponsored by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) is co-sponsoring with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) the State Witness Protection Act, which would for the first time make witness intimidation a federal crime. It would also toughen sentences for anyone who attempts to intimidate a witness, or prevents a witness from going to the police with information.
Tumolo said witness intimidation is a serious hindrance to local law enforcement.
“A lot of these gangs that have become so powerful have begun intimidating witnesses, which makes prosecuting nearly impossible, so by bringing the might of the federal government to bear and making it a federal crime, it’s going to be more difficult for these people to get away with this and easier to prosecute them,” Tumolo said.
Witness intimidation is all too common in Westchester, Tumolo said. On July 22, a 20-year-old man was stabbed on Washington Street. The victim, and a witness who was with the victim when police arrived, refused to cooperate with police, and authorities subsequently issued a plea for information to the public.
“We’ll have an assault or a robbery, and we have a victim saying somebody in the family threatened me, and sometimes they won’t come forward because they’re afraid,” Tumolo said. “It sends a terrible message that you can get away with something by just intimidating someone.”
The bill is intended to help law enforcement officials protect key witnesses who provide the police with information about crimes, help identify suspects or testify during trials. The legislation also increases criminal penalties on people who seek to intimidate witnesses.
“Westchester County law enforcement officials have consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty to catch violent criminals, but many of the serious crimes they are investigating were witnessed by dozens of people who are not coming forward to help,” Schumer said Monday.
In addition, the legislation would increase the maximum penalty to 30 years in prison in cases of attempted murder or physical violence against a witness, and increase the maximum sentence to 20 years for other types of witness intimidation, such as obstruction of justice.