SACRAMENTO /California Newswire/ — Responding to the brutal gang rape of a minor in Richmond, California, Assemblymember Pedro Nava’s (D-Santa Barbara) ‘fast tracked’ legislation, Assembly Bill 984, the “Witness Responsibility Act,” which holds witnesses accountable for failing to report a rape or murder to authorities, passed from the State Assembly today on a bipartisan vote. The measure now goes to the State Senate for consideration.

Nava’s measure is similar to laws in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada.

“The bill would assist in the investigation of crimes and we thank you (Assemblymember Nava) for your efforts to protect innocent victims,” said Randy Perry representing Peace Officers Research Association of California.

“This vote sends a resounding message that it is not okay to just standby when someone is being violently brutalized. There is a problem with existing law when witnesses to a crime are not held accountable for something as simple as calling the police,” said Nava. “As a society, what kind of message are we sending when we say it is okay to stand by and watch a person being brutally victimized over and over again? I am very happy that the State Assembly sent a strong message today that everyone in the community is entitled to protection.”

Harriet Salarno, Chair, Crime Victims United of California said, “AB 984 removes a senseless provision that limits the reporting requirement by individuals witnessing violent crimes against victims to only those victims under the age of 14. In the case of the Richmond rape, had any one of the witnesses called the police, the two hour attack could have been halted much sooner. Victims of violent crime should be able to expect that regardless of one’s age, witnesses to their crimes will report the atrocities to law enforcement and provide the relevant information to assist in apprehending the victim’s attacker(s). We applaud Mr. Nava for his efforts in supporting victims’ rights.”

A 1999 California law makes it illegal to fail to report a witnessed rape, murder, or crime against a child under the age of 14, and is punishable as a misdemeanor with up to 6 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1500. Nava’s AB 984, the “Witness Responsibility Act,” will remove the victim’s age threshold that requires an observer to report violent crimes.

On October 24th, 2009, a young woman in Richmond, only 16 years old, left her high school dance to get a ride from her father when she joined some young men and began drinking with them. They soon began their assault. Several of the men beat her, robbed her, and began repeatedly raping her while people looked on without taking any action for 2 ½ hours.

Police believe there were up to 10 attackers and anywhere from 15 to 20 people stopping to watch. Additionally, authorities said people took photos, laughed and some joined in as the girl was repeatedly assaulted. People came and went and no one called the police. Because the victim was 16 at the time of the attack, law enforcement could not hold accountable the numerous witnesses to this brutal crime. They could not take them in for questioning.

“AB 984 closes this loophole, protecting innocent crime victims and gives law enforcement the ability to arrest and bring to justice perpetrators of violent crime, such as the Richmond rape case,” said Timothy Yaryan, Legislative Counsel to the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.