Man won’t face charges for traffic stop

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2019

An employee of the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office will not be charged with impersonating a police officer after he conducted a traffic stop on Freeman Mill Road on Sept. 10.

Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips “Phil” Ferguson concluded that the man should not be charged “given all of the circumstances of this case,” according to a letter he sent this week to Police Chief Thomas Bennett.

Police began investigating the incident after a man reported he was stopped by a person he suspected was impersonating a law enforcement officer. The man who conducted the stop was driving a white, late model Dodge Charger with no markings but with a police-style spotlight at the driver’s side door.

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After their investigation, the case was submitted for legal analysis and review to Ferguson’s office. He wrote in his Monday letter to Bennett that his office did not find evidence of criminal misconduct.

Ferguson wrote that the incident happened when the complainant stopped for a school bus. The other man pulled next to him, “displayed a partially covered police type badge,” and had him pull over, according to Ferguson’s letter to Bennett.

The names of both men, as well as all of the law enforcement officials except Bennett mentioned in the letter, were redacted in the copy of the letter sent to the News-Herald.

The letter went on to say that the man who pulled the car over had a handgun holstered on his hip, told the complainant he was being stopped for speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign and asked for a license and registration. Once provided these items, he took them back to his car but returned to the complainant’s vehicle after a few moments.

The complainant told the other man he was suspicious and was going to call the Suffolk Police Department, upon which the man who had pulled him over threw the documents at him, told him he was free to leave and left the scene.

A Suffolk Sheriff’s deputy, upon hearing of the incident, told Suffolk Police he was aware of a similar incident in the same area of the city.

A Suffolk Police officer saw the vehicle two days later on Whaleyville Boulevard and stopped it. The driver told police he was deputized by the Portsmouth Sheriff and admitted carrying a badge and firearm and also acknowledged the events of two days earlier, including admitting he did not identify himself to the man he stopped and did not notify Suffolk Police about the incident. He told police he was considering obtaining a traffic warrant for the other man.

Suffolk Police confirmed the man was deputized by the Portsmouth Sheriff.

Generally, Ferguson wrote, jurisdiction of law enforcement officers is confined to the boundaries of the political subdivision in which they serve.

However, Portsmouth and Suffolk are in a Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Agreement. It is primarily meant for times of disaster or civil disturbance but also gives “law enforcement officers of any party to the agreement” who are “casually present” in another jurisdiction “the authority to detain and/or arrest where there is a clear threat to public safety that, because of urgency, requires immediate action by the officer outside his or her jurisdiction.”

Visiting officers who take police action are required to notify local authorities, and the man did not do so, even after the incident hit the local news, Ferguson noted. However, he did not believe that invalidated the man’s actions.

Further, Ferguson wrote, there is a right of citizen’s arrest in Virginia, and the state’s Supreme Court has recently held that perilous driving “constitutes a breach of the peace sufficient to justify a citizen’s arrest.”

Ferguson concluded the letter by stating he made no conclusion as to the “prudence” of the man’s actions.