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Bill targets attackers of police: Would-be killers would face 15-years minimum in jail

By Yvonne Wenger
The Post and Courier
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jeffrey DeGrow did not want to be in the newspaper again.

He is focused on paying back God for sparing his life. He is looking forward as he defines his new role on Earth.

One year has passed since the now-medically retired Charleston County sheriff's deputy was shot six times as he chased a burglary suspect through a rural part of James Island.

DeGrow does not like the spotlight. He spoke up for one reason. He wants to lend his voice to a cause close to his heart: Adding protections in South Carolina for law enforcement officers.

He supports a bill filed by Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, that would send criminals who try to kill law enforcement officers to prison for at least 15 years.

"I think the worst of the worst are the ones that take aim at a police officer," McCoy said.

McCoy, a former assistant solicitor, said it was DeGrow's story that inspired him to file the legislation to set a minimum sentence for the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer while on duty. As it is now, McCoy said those would-be murderers can escape any jail time or find themselves behind bars for up to 30 years.

Brandon Simmons, the man found guilty of shooting DeGrow, was sent to prison in December for 25 years.

McCoy's bill, which is in the House Judiciary Committee, would build on new laws the Legislature passed last year as part of its sentencing reform package.

The reform package created an attempted murder statute. Previously, attempted murder fell under the "assault and battery" category. Supporters of the change argued, as it is often said, that the difference between murder and attempted murder can depend on the emergency medical treatment that is available.

Jeff Moore, executive director of the state Sheriff's Association, said he supports McCoy's efforts.

McCoy said he wanted to add the minimum sentence for the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer because men and women in uniform deserve extra protections.

"They're out there working for us," McCoy said. "They're protecting us, and I wanted to look out for them a little bit."

DeGrow said ensuring that a person who will try to kill a law enforcement officer is locked up will create a safer community for everyone.

"If a person is going to harm a police officer, the epitome of authority, knowing we have guns, too -- if they're going to shot at us, just think how easy they would do it to any citizen," he said.

DeGrow, 34, is taking online classes at Liberty University and is working to transfer to Charleston Southern University, where he wants to finish his bachelor's degree in religion. DeGrow said he plans to go to seminary to become a pastor. In the meantime, he is trying to become a certified chaplain to work with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy to provide care and counsel to people who suffer a tragedy.

He believes the shooting, which left him blind in his right eye, was a part of his life designed by divine order.

"It was a moment of awakening," DeGrow said. "I prayed for the Lord to spare my life and he did and I feel this is the way I can pay him back and be of service to him and not take what he gave me for granted."