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California Assembly bill would require witnesses to report violent crimes

The legislation was prompted by the gang rape of a 16-year-old student, who was attacked for about two hours near a Richmond school as at least a dozen witnesses failed to call police.

December 18, 2009|By Robert J. Lopez

A California lawmaker is trying to make it a crime for witnesses not to report homicides, rapes and other violent attacks.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), was prompted by the gang rape of a 16-year-old Richmond High School student who was attacked for about two hours while at least a dozen witnesses failed to call police.

(Richmond police initially said the girl was 15.)

"It is a horrible, horrible indictment on the state of affairs when a 16-year-old blameless girl can be viciously assaulted and anywhere from 10 to 14 witnesses don't do anything about it," Nava said in an interview. "That is shameful."

He said the legislation would close a loophole in a state law that makes it illegal for witnesses not to report a crime against a child under age 14.

"Why should you not have the same obligation if a victim is 60?" said Nava, a former prosecutor.

His measure, which is called the Witness Responsibility Act, would require witnesses to call authorities during violent crimes.

In the Richmond case, police said that at least seven males took part in the Oct. 24 rape, which began about 9:30 p.m. and lasted two to 2 1/2 hours.

Some of the attackers allegedly laughed and took photos of the girl as she was raped and beaten in a dark alley near campus after leaving a homecoming dance, police said.

A woman who heard about the attack from her friends finally called a 911 operator, saying that "nobody wants to call the cops."

Six males -- three adults and three juveniles -- were charged in the rape and have pleaded not guilty.

The three juveniles are being tried as adults, authorities said.

The crime sparked outrage and focused national attention on Richmond, northeast of San Francisco.

Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan said the proposed law would be helpful when dealing with violent crimes such as the gang rape.

"It's another tool for law enforcement," he said.

Nava said he has "fast-tracked" the legislation, meaning he has incorporated it into an existing bill that will allow it to be considered in January.

He said he expects the bill to be supported by his fellow lawmakers.

"This is fresh on people's minds," he said. "Everybody I know is outraged by this."

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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