SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) – Lawmakers on Tuesday heard testimony from the public, including from the wife of a slain police officer, as they consider making strangulation a felony in Oregon.
Senate Bill 1562 , if passed, would expand the definition of strangulation to make it illegal for someone to apply pressure to the chest of someone else in an attempt to impede normal breathing or circulation. Strangulation would also become a felony when the victim is family or lives with the accused.
Wendy Libke urged lawmakers to pass SB 1562 after she learned the man who killed her husband had a history of abuse.
In prepared testimony, Libke told lawmakers that her husband, Oregon City Police Officer Rob Libke, was shot on Nov. 3, 2013 while responding to what first responders thought was a house fire.
“The investigation later detailed the suspect’s [Lawrence Cambra] plan to kill his domestic partner, his neighbors and ultimately himself,” Libke said. “The victim told investigators that the suspect strangled her as she fought for her life.”
"The woman who was being strangled was able to escape, but the [Cambra] went on a rampage. He lit his house on fire. My husband Rob interrupted [Cambra] as he was trying to break into the home of a neighbor with a clear plan to kill her. [Cambra] shot and killed my husband, within minutes of strangling his girlfriend.”
Cambra committed suicide when confronted by SWAT officers.
“My husband’s killer had a history of strangling women,” Libke said. “I later learned that men who kill police officers often have a history of strangling women. Yet in Oregon, that is only a misdemeanor.”
The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners and other organizations like the Alliance for HOPE International have also filed paperwork urging lawmakers to pass SB 1562.
“The majority of all strangulation cases in Oregon are currently treated as misdemeanors, like shoplifting. We urge you not to allow most domestic violence strangulation cases to continue to be misdemeanors,” the President of Alliance for HOPE International wrote in prepared testimony.
Tuesday’s public hearing took place at the state capitol at 8:15 a.m. in Salem.
Oregon's District Attorney Association released a statement saying,
Senior domestic violence prosecutors joined Sen. Taylor, legislative leaders and domestic violence survivors, victim advocates, law enforcement officers and medical personnel today to support this important legislation. SB 1562 would make the crime of domestic violence strangulation a felony. Under current law, when a domestic partner strangles his/her partner, even if that partner is left with serious or long-term injuries as a result of the strangulation, it’s merely a misdemeanor. Clackamas County Senior Deputy District Attorney John Wentworth, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee brought attention to the gap that currently exists in Oregon’s criminal statues, stating “What incentive does a woman have to report when the system refuses to take her strangulation seriously? What message are we sending to the offender and his victim?” Many prosecutors think the current law says to victims and abusers that victims’ safety isn’t taken seriously. Wentworth’s comments were echoed by Senior District Attorney Gina Skinner, a domestic violence prosecutor in Washington County. Skinner called upon the Committee to pass SB 1562 stating “if anyone deserves to serve prison time, it is these violent offenders. Strangulation should be a felony.”