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Christiansburg PD releases statement on Hurst stop

The Christiansburg Police Department on Friday, Feb. 21, released the results of the internal investigation into the January traffic stop involving Delegate Chris Hurst. 

 

On Jan. 26, Lt. Stephen Swecker stopped a vehicle driven by Hurst on the U.S. 460 Bypass, between the downtown Christiansburg and Peppers Ferry Road exits. The officer had observed the vehicle, which was traveling west toward Blacksburg, swerve across the right side fog-line several times. The vehicle also traveled over the posted speed limit for a brief period.

 

When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed that Hurst’s eyes were red and he smelled the odor of administered four field sobriety tests, as well as a preliminary field breath test, which is a portable breath test used in the field to assist the officer in determining if a person is impaired. The results of a preliminary breath test conducted in the field are used as an investigative tool, but are not admissible as evidence in court. Hurst complied with the officer’s request and performed all the tests.

 

Hurst struggled with the walk and turn field test but passed the other three field tests. Hurst’s preliminary breath test registered a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .085. Based on Hurst’s overall performance during the field sobriety tests, the officer released Hurst without charging him.

 

The Christiansburg Police Department conducted an internal investigation into the incident, which involved reviewing department policies and the policies of the surrounding law enforcement agencies, interviewing the officer, reviewing the officer’s past performance in DUI interactions, and consulting the commonwealth’s attorney. As a result of this internal investigation, it was determined that no department policies were violated, and there is no evidence of improper or inconsistent actions or favoritism exhibited by the officer. The investigation concluded that the officer treated the driver in this instance just as anyone else would have been treated faced with similar circumstances.

 

Since Jan. 1, 2019, Lt. Stephen Swecker has made 16 DUI arrests and conducted an additional eight investigations that did not result in arrests. In the case involving Hurst, Lt. Swecker administered the initial Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and then four field tests. Of those four field tests, Hurst failed one. In the 16 DUI arrests Lt. Swecker made over the past year, each driver failed the majority of the tests. In no instance did Lt. Swecker arrest someone who passed more field tests than they failed. Additionally, of those alcohol-related arrests, the lowest preliminary breath test result was a .097, and unlike the Hurst incident, that driver failed the majority of the field tests administered. The investigation found Lt. Swecker’s treatment of Hurst was entirely consistent with every other DUI case he has investigated over the past year.

 

“Lt. Swecker is highly trained and has a great deal of experience in DUI enforcement, and as such, just as we do with all of our officers, we trust his judgment in using his discretion in order to be effective in the field,” Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sisson said. “We understand not everyone will agree with Lt. Swecker’s decision not to arrest Chris Hurst, but Lt. Swecker was the one on scene, observing all of the relevant factors. We have full confidence that Lt. Swecker reached his conclusion based on objective observations and we have no reason to question his judgment or integrity.”

 

Once a determination has been reached that there is not probable cause to arrest an individual, an officer has limited authority to restrict that individual’s liberty. The Christiansburg Police Department has issued additional guidance to officers to encourage exploring all possible alternative modes of transportation – such as ride sharing or public transportation – in future encounters.

 

The internal investigation did identify a need to clarify agency policy with regard to the treatment of members of the General Assembly. Because of the complex –   and at times contradictory provisions of the Code of Virginia and the Constitution of Virginia in this area, the Christiansburg Police Department has clarified its policy to state that while the General Assembly is in session, officers shall only arrest or charge members of the General Assembly for treason, felony offenses or offenses clearly constituting a breach of peace – which policy defines as violent offenses or an offense that creates a public disturbance or panic. For all other offenses while the General Assembly is in session, officers shall document the offense, and if deemed warranted after consultation with the commonwealth’s attorney, obtain a warrant or summons for the offense after the session concludes.

 

To reiterate, the officer decided not to arrest Hurst because of the totality of the field results, not because of legislative immunity. Because of this, the Christiansburg Police Department will not pursue charges for Hurst after the General Assembly concludes.

 

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve received a lot of feedback from the public and understand not everyone agrees with the officer’s decision that night and will not agree with the results of this internal investigation,” Sisson said. “However, we remain confident in the judgement and integrity of our officers and trust them to make sound enforcement decisions based on objective, factual information and observations and to remain uninfluenced by social or political pressure. We continually review our procedures and performance and will always do so, particularly in matters of great public concern. We remain steadfast in our commitment to provide the best possible law enforcement service to our community.”

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