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West Hartford Lawmaker Seeks Stiffer Knockout ‘Game’ Penalty

by | Mar 11, 2014 11:52am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Public Safety, West Hartford

Christine Stuart photo West Hartford Officer Tom Nagle said his 18-year-old son’s jaw was broken when he was sucker-punched by a stranger as he was walking across his college campus.

It’s attacks like this that state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, is trying to stop.

Verrengia proposed a bill that would make knocking someone unconscious punishable by a Class D felony, where two of the five-year maximum prison sentence can not be suspended. It would also seek to transfer cases involving minors over the age of 16 who are charged with the crime from juvenile to adult court.

The knockout game is where a person surprises a stranger by knocking them out with a punch, but according to some it’s an urban myth that’s being spread by Internet videos and isn’t happening with the frequency that one might believe.

Christine Stuart photo Verrengia, who is a police sergeant in West Hartford, admitted that the frequency of these incidents is difficult to track and he has no statistics.

Asked if it was a myth proliferated by videos on the Internet, Verrengia said, “if you ask a victim who has been victimized by one of these very serious crimes I think they would say otherwise. This is a real issue.”

What’s scary about the “knockout game” is that it can “happen to anyone, at anytime, at any place,” Verrengia said.

He said this is the first time the bill has been proposed and he’s opening to working with those who may have some revisions.

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue told the Public Safety Committee Tuesday that “unconsciousness” is already recognized by Connecticut law to be a serious physical injury.

“So anyone who commits a knockout crime and causes unconsciousness has already violated general statutes,” Sugrue told the committee.

The bill makes the person who knocks someone unconscious subject to two separate statutes. He said the existing one carriers no mandatory minimum, but a new section of the bill creates a two-year mandatory minimum. He said that could cause charging distinctions among prosecutors if it passed.

Also, in order to avoid the new language of a bill which refers specifically to a one-punch knockout, criminals could use a one-two punch approach and avoid a two-year mandatory minimum.

Christine Rapillo, director of the delinquency defense and child protection division of Public Defender Services, said that the proposal is unnecessary.

“Public safety is already adequately protected by current criminal laws,” Rapillo wrote in her testimony to the committee.

Further, “proposing to make this Class D felony automatically transferred to the adult docket is unreasonably harsh and runs counter to every reform that has been accomplished in juvenile justice in Connecticut,” she added. “. . . A blanket rule that all such cases be transferred runs contrary to current knowledge that young people are more likely to rehabilitate and not re-offend when they are placed into developmentally appropriate rehabilitate services through the juvenile court system.”

In addition, second-degree assault is already a crime that can be considered for transfer from juvenile to adult court.

“Since this proposed offense would be based on the intent of the accused, it is much more appropriate to leave the decision to transfer to the prosecutor and the judge,” Rapillo added.

The committee has until March 18 to vote on the legislation.

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: Greg | March 11, 2014  5:11pm

While I appreciate the intent of such a proposal, why is yet another statute for assault necessary? Rapillo nailed it- there’s no gap in existing law that would hinder proscecution of assault/punch so why bother adding another statute for “knockout” that looks extremely onerous?  What if two teens scuffle on the playground…felons now? 

Adding a new law with a new penalty doesn’t exactly stop some misguided individuals from playing the knockout game should they choose to do so, hence the misguided, reactionary nature of our esteemed lawmakers thinking their new law can solve humanity’s issues.  Assault is already illegal, and plenty of folks get assaulted daily despite it. 

This looks to be a waste of the public’s time solving a problem that doesn’t exist for the sake of “doing something” that doesn’t need to be done.

posted by: Salmo | March 11, 2014  6:25pm

There is a lot of legalese lingo here. It sort of gives the discussion a sanitary bearing. Ask Officer Nagle’s kid what he thinks about the “game”. A sucker punch on an elderly person could be a kill shot. Don’t dance around with this. Just because Ms. Rapillo lives in a dream world shouldn’t mean the rest of us should have to. THAT… would be “unreasonably harsh”.

posted by: SocialButterfly | March 11, 2014  9:54pm

Convicted knockout ‘game’ criminals should get extensive photo exposure in the news media to deter copycats from continuing to engage in this disgraceful, potentially deadly practice.
“This is not a game” and should not be described as such in the news media and must be described as a “knockout assault” that it truly is.  Let’s not glofify this horrific crime as a game—when it could result in deadly consequences to the innocent victims.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | March 12, 2014  8:25am

@ Greg-

Fully agree with you. We have the assault statutes that address this. As a police officer, we don’t need a new specific law, we need courts that will punish appropriately.

posted by: bob8/57 | March 12, 2014  10:43am


Jack-booted political thug offers solution to problem that doesn’t exist. Media rolls over and wants it’s tummy rubbed. Everyone looses.

posted by: Greg | March 12, 2014  11:52am

@ Salmo- “A sucker punch on an elderly person could be a kill shot. Don’t dance around with this.”

What’s not covered by existing law? 1st Degree Assault is a Class B felony and appears to fit the knockout game. In the event of a death, we also have Manslaughter and Murder as applicable charges, not to mention if it’s a group thing some manner of accessory charge. All felonies to my understanding, so again…where’s the gap in existing assault statute that requires a whole new law addressing this knockout game?

posted by: Joebigjoe | March 12, 2014  8:10pm

I report you decide. If Al Sharpton is upset about it, it’s not an urban legend. It’s also not all black on white, as some whites have done it too,  but it is mostly black perpetrators. I’m not politically correct but those are the facts.


Do we need another law? No but we need a stiffer sentence because although its assault, if its your first offense of this type of crime, you’re getting a wrist slap no matter what the statute says.

Wait until another month or so when the weather gets better and we’ll see if this continues.

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