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Internal probe opened into Hurst traffic stop

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

CHRISTIANSBURG — Christiansburg Police Department has launched an internal investigation into the handling of an early Sunday, Jan. 26, traffic stop of 12th District Delegate Chris Hurst, whom police say tested over the legal limit for alcohol consumption in a preliminary breath test.

Hurst represents a small portion of Pulaski County in the Virginia General Assembly.

Under Virginia’s Constitution, Hurst could not be arrested because legislators are immune from arrest while the General Assembly is in session. The only exceptions are the committing of felonies, acts of treason or a breaching of the peace.

Public response to the incident and a dashcam video of Hurst’s encounter with Christiansburg Lt. Stephen Swecker, however, was swift. Citizens questioned on social media why legislators are held to a different standard than the average citizen and why Hurst’s girlfriend was ultimately allowed to leave the traffic stop despite the officer’s concern over Breathalyzer tests given to both.

In the video, Swecker advises Hurst he cannot drive from the scene of the stop due to a Breathalyzer test that showed a .085 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The legal limit is .08 percent.

Hurst offered to let his girlfriend drive, but the officer also expressed concern with her driving after giving her a Breathalyzer test. Apparently her test was under the legal limit, but still of concern to the officer.

Hurst told Swecker he and his girlfriend were returning to Montgomery County from a party in Roanoke and they were on their way to Taco Bell.

Hurst and the girlfriend tell the officer there is no one they could call to drive them from the traffic stop at 2 a.m. Swecker finally agrees to let the girlfriend drive to Walmart in Christiansburg, where the couple was to wait 30 minutes for their BAC to drop before continuing to their destination.

“The Christiansburg Police Department shares the community’s concerns regarding the Jan. 26 traffic stop involving Chris Hurst and has launched an internal investigation to review if the actions taken during the encounter violated agency policy,” the department said in a Thursday statement.

It continues, “The department is also conducting a review of the policies governing DUI enforcement to ensure those policies promote public safety and adequate enforcement action when appropriate and legally permissible under the provisions of the Code of Virginia and the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Our goal and mission at the Christiansburg Police Department remains to provide the best possible law enforcement service to the community.”

According to the department, internal investigations must be completed within 30 days. Additional information is supposed to be released once the probe is complete.

According to information released by the police department earlier in the week, Swecker stopped Hurst’s vehicle around 2 a.m. on U.S. 460 Bypass, between the downtown Christiansburg and Peppers Ferry Road exits.

Police said the stop was initiated because Hurst’s westbound vehicle swerved across the right fog-line several times and traveled over the posted speed limit for a “brief” period of time.

“When the officer approached the driver, he noticed that the driver’s eyes were red and he smelled the odor of alcohol coming from within the vehicle,” a police department press release states. After checking Hurst’s license status, Swecker, “explained his observations to the driver and asked him to follow his pen with his eyes. After noticing a lack of smooth pursuit, he then asked the driver, Chris Hurst, to step out of the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests,” the release adds.

Authorities say Hurst complied with all tests he was requested to perform. Since results of Breathalyzer tests are not admissible in court, the release indicates Swecker determined Hurst’s BAC would be below the legal limit by the time a formal and admissible test were performed.

“Because of this, along with Hurst’s overall performance during the field sobriety tests and coupled with the fact that Hurst had a sober companion in the vehicle who could drive him home, the officer released Hurst without charging him,” the department press release stated. That release was issued prior to release of the dash cam video to media.

At no time do Hurst or Swecker mention Hurst’s status as a legislator or the immunity provision. Christiansburg Police Department says Swecker was aware Hurst is a legislator and had arrest immunity during General Assembly sessions because that aspect of the Commonwealth’s Constitution is taught in the police academy.

“This provision of the state Constitution makes it highly unlikely that Hurst could have [been] prosecuted in court even if he had been arrested. The officer weighed all of the factors and made a judgment call, as is done each and every time an officer decides whether or not to make an arrest,” the early-issued release states.

The police department refers to Swecker as a “highly experienced in DUI detection and enforcement.” In fact, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has recognized Swecker at least four times for his performance in DUI arrests, according to the department.

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