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State Attorney Melissa Nelson is taking a non-nonsense approach to assaults upon police officers that are connected with the current virus threat.

Underscoring the pivotal roles the police and other first responders play during a worldwide medical emergency like the pandemic, Nelson’s office said in a memo that she is taking a “zero tolerance” stance on incidents such as a recent one in Jacksonville where a suspect coughed in an officer’s face after claiming she was infected with Covid-19.

The memo described that as “inexcusable criminal conduct” and promised swift action would follow any conduct that harms or threatens to harm any law enforcement officer or other first responder.

“Because of the duties that law enforcement and first responders are required to perform; they are at considerable risk of being infected by the COVID-19 virus,” the memo said. “Just like healthcare practitioners, law enforcement and first responders on a daily basis are faced with the reality that they are likely to come into contact with an infected individual. In addition to the potential health hazards related to contracting the COVID-19 virus, law enforcement officers and first responders are also experiencing considerable stress due to these increased pressures and obligations both inside and outside of work.”

Prosecutors were advised of the offenses that could be charged in such cases. They include Corruption by threat against a public servant, and also assault, aggravated assault, battery, or aggravated battery on a first responder.

The memo concluded, “…our law enforcement and first responder partners are currently facing an incredibly challenging and dangerous environment due to the impact of COVID-19. Having them subjected to actual harm, or threats of harm from COVID-19, based on the intentional act of a defendant, will not be tolerated by this office. Consequently, there will be “Zero Tolerance” for this category of crimes. Moving forward, these cases must be treated with the utmost seriousness and require punitive sanctions upon conviction.”

The police often have to handle anyone they come in contact with whether they have AIDS, a virus or any other medical condition. For suspects to deliberately try to infect them is intolerable and Nelson’s position is both timely and wise.

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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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