CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) - According to the Christiansburg Police Department, an internal investigation has begun following the traffic stop Sunday of Delegate Chris Hurst (D-12), who was not charged after blowing a blood alcohol concentration of .085.
Lt. Stephen Swecker discussed Hurst traffic stop with division commander (Soure: Christiansburg Police Department)
A release from the police department states:
"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. Internal investigations must be complete within 30 days, and we will provide additional information once the investigation is complete.
"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."
The department says no other statements or interviews will be given at the time.
Hurst issued a statement about being pulled over Sunday by a police officer who saw him swerving and speeding. Partly because of an aspect of the Virginia Constitution, he was not charged.
Hurst's statement reads, “I am very sorry this happened and take full responsibility for exercising such poor judgment. This mistake is not something I take lightly. The work before us in the General Assembly this session is more important than ever before. I look forward to continued efforts to build a better 12th District and Commonwealth of Virginia.”
In an additional statement posted to his Facebook page, Hurst said, "It has been brought up that sitting members of the General Assembly cannot be charged with crimes while they are in session. While true, I don’t agree that I should be immune from prosecution when warranted. I never avoid responsibility and accept the consequences of my actions. I am not above the law."
Christiansburg Police have released dashcam video (attached to this story) of Hurst being pulled over and going through sobriety tests. A 45-second portion revealing personal medical information about Hurst has been edited from the video.
About 2 a.m. January 26, according to a statement from the town of Christiansburg, a town police officer pulled Hurst over on the U.S. 460 Bypass, between the exits for downtown Christiansburg and Peppers Ferry Road. The officer said he saw the driver swerve across the right side fog line several times and drive above the posted speed limit.
When the officer approached the driver, according to the city's statement, he noticed the driver's eyes were red, and the officer smelled alcohol coming from within the vehicle.
The officer got the driver's license and conducted a routine check of the license status, according to the city, then explained to the driver, identified as Hurst, what he had seen in traffic. He asked Hurst to follow his pen with his eyes. He then asked Hurst to step out of the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. The officer administered those tests and 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.
According to the city, the results of the 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's preliminary breath test registered a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .085, according to the city. The officer determined that by the time Hurst was taken to the magistrate's office for a formal breathalyzer test - which is the only admissible test in court - Hurst would be under the legal limit. 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 officer was aware Hurst is a delegate, but neither the officer nor Hurst mentioned that at any time during the encounter, according to the city's statement.
A series of text messages obtained by WDBJ7 shows that the Lt. Stephen Swecker notified his division commander of the traffic stop with Hurst. In it, they discussed potential immunity.
The city said, "Additionally, according to Section IV, Article 9 of the Constitution of Virginia, unless they have committed treason, a felony or a breach of peace, legislators are immune from arrest while the General Assembly is in session. Neither the officer nor Hurst mentioned this law, but the officer was aware of the law's existence, because it's taught during the police academy. This provision of the State Constitution makes it highly unlikely that Hurst could have prosecuted in court even if he had been arrested. The officer weighed all of the factors and made a judgement call, as is done each and every time an officer decides whether or not to make an arrest. The officer, Lt. Stephen Swecker, is highly experienced in DUI detection and enforcement. He has been recognized and awarded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving on at least four occasions for his performance in this area."
In an additional statement, posted to his Facebook page around 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, Hurst said, "It has been brought up that sitting members of the General Assembly cannot be charged with crimes while they are in session. While true, I don’t agree that I should be immune from prosecution when warranted. I never avoid responsibility and accept the consequences of my actions. I am not above the law."
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