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Are There Good Cops? Part 2

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DENVER, CO – MAY 30: Braxton Robertson pleads with the police during a protest after the killing of George Floyd – the Minneapolis man, who was killed by an officer, while being detained – in downtown Denver on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Thousands gathered to protest as police enforced an 8 p.m. citywide curfew. As officers advanced, protestors began throwing objects as officers returned non-lethal fire into the crowd. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

This is just revolting. And yet, how common is this kind of thing? Way more common than a lot of people want to admit.

Fairfax County prosecutors are moving to throw out more than 400 criminal convictions based on the testimony or work of a former patrol officer who is accused of stealing drugs from the police property room, planting drugs on innocent people and stopping motorists without legal basis, court filings show. In a hearing Friday, a Fairfax judge said he was inclined to vacate felony drug and gun convictions against a former D.C. firefighter and order him released from prison next week after serving nearly two years because of the actions of former officer Jonathan A. Freitag.

Fairfax police said they began investigating Freitag after receiving a tip about him in July 2019. The police department took him off the streets. Freitag, now 25, resigned in May 2020 after the FBI had joined Fairfax County in a criminal investigation of him. But even after The Washington Post first reported the allegations against Freitag in June 2020, he was hired by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in Florida in August 2020. The Fairfax human resources department reported to Brevard that the former officer had never been “subject to disciplinary action” and “there are no disciplinary records in his file.”

Freitag was fired by the Brevard County sheriff on April 1 after The Post inquired about his status there. Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey then sent a scathing two-page letter to interim Fairfax police chief David M. Rohrer accusing Fairfax of providing “misleading representations to our legitimate efforts to investigate” Freitag. Ivey said it was “outrageous that an individual such as Mr. Freitag, with a history of alleged misconduct at the Fairfax County Police Department, had become a member of our agency and placed in a position that may have negatively impacted our citizens due to your agency’s misrepresentations.”

Troubled officers leaving one department and then turning up at another has been cited by justice reform advocates as a problem with policing. There is a national database of decertified officers, and Virginia has one too, but Freitag resigned before he could be formally decertified. Beginning last month, Virginia toughened its criteria for decertification to include officers who resign for an act “that compromises an officer’s credibility, integrity, honesty, or other characteristics that constitute exculpatory or impeachment evidence in a criminal case.” But that law wasn’t in effect when Freitag left Fairfax last year.

Internal police records provided by Freitag’s lawyers show he was the subject of five internal affairs inquiries in 2018 and 2019, including two involving his allegedly sloppy handling of traffic stops. But no complaint was filed in the traffic stop involving Wilson, who was pulled over by Freitag near a recording studio that had been the scene of violent incidents. When Freitag searched the car during the April 3, 2018, stop, he found a handgun, marijuana and a bag with more than 450 tablets of oxycodone in the glove compartment, court records show.

Freitag said he stopped the car because Wilson had crossed the center line, then smelled marijuana as he approached. Wilson said the drugs and gun belonged to his passenger, a juvenile whose charges were later dropped. Wilson, then 23, was charged with drug dealing, possession of a weapon while possessing drugs, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and failure to maintain control of his vehicle. He was immediately suspended by the D.C. fire department.

Facing a possible 10-year sentence on gun and drug charges, Wilson entered a plea and was found guilty. He was sentenced in July 2019 to three years and one month in prison. Descano said Wilson might have been innocent of the charges, because the passenger admitted the drugs and gun were his, but faced with 10 years in prison and a newborn at home, he said Wilson’s decision to enter a plea was understandable.

That same month, according to police records, a citizen filed a complaint against Freitag “alleging multiple acts of misconduct,” which aren’t specified. As a result of that complaint, Fairfax police opened a second investigation over Freitag’s traffic stops and reviewed more than 150 in-car videos of his stops in June and July 2019, showing he had failed to document whom he’d stopped or when he’d searched cars. He was interviewed by internal affairs in September 2019 and “acknowledged [he] primarily conduct[ed] pretextual traffic stops and look for ‘narcotics, guns, any stolen property, and wanted people.’ ” The Wilson case, from 2018, was not part of this internal investigation.

That this guy had to plea out despite being completely innocent is part and parcel of our criminal injustice system. Knowing the consequences he would face for not taking the plea would be far worse than taking it, despite the actual facts, he cut his losses. This happens again and again and again.

Once more, I need evidence that any cops are good. Because I’m not seeing much of it.

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