Fairfax County prosecutors are moving to vacate more than 440 criminal cases that resulted from lies, planted evidence, and faked reports by a corrupt cop and son of an Arlington County police officer.
To make matters worse, after the officer resigned in May 2020 while being investigated, the Fairfax department issued a reference letter for disgraced officer Jonathan A. Freitag that said he had “resigned from the position in good standing, your employment was entirely favorable and you are eligible for re-hire.”
That reference letter was submitted by Freitag to Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, who hired Freitag as a probationary officer in August 2020, until The Washington Post contacted the Florida department and shared its information about Freitag’s checkered record, suspensions, and Internal Affairs investigations.
After reviewing the Post’s report, Sheriff Ivey investigated further, fired Freitag on April 1 of this year, and sent an angry two-page letter to interim Fairfax police chief David M. Roher for what he now considers his department’s “misleading represention to our legitimate efforts to investigate an individual such as Mr. Frietag.”
Ivey’s scathing letter to Fairfax added:
Mr. Freitag, with a history of alleged misconduct at Fairfax County, had become a member of our agency and placed in a position that may have negatively impacted our citizens due to our agency’s misrepresentations.
One of Freitag’s cases involved the arrest and conviction of District of Columbia firefighter Elon Wilson, imprisoned two years ago and where prosecutors now say Feigtag, planted drugs stolen from the county’s evidence storage, altered reports, and provided fake testimony.
Last Friday, a Fairfax judge ordered the release of Wilson and said he is taking the steps to vacate the conviction of an innocent man framed by a corrupt police officer.
Fairfax is investigating the 932 cases handled by Freitag during his three years on their force. More than 400 of them resulted in convictions. Wilson’s release and pending revocation of charges are the first of what could be many more reversals. Prosecutors say Frietag “admitted to falsifying information in records and admitted to a third party to engaging in racial profiling in determining which motorists to stop.”
“This is news to me,” Freitag claims. “I have parted ways with Fairfax. Clearly [Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney] Steve Descano has an agenda. I will continue to stick by my word of me doing nothing wrong.”
“What occurred, in this case, is a disgrace of monumental proportions, and a stain on the good work of many honest police officers and prosecutors. The conviction and sentence in this matter were unjustly obtained and if left uncorrected will undermine confidence in our system of justice,” Descano responds in a court brief.
“I just want to apologize to Elon Wilson and his family for what they’ve endured, because of the failings of the criminal justice system,” he adds in a statement to the Washington Post.
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.
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. Wilson was immediately suspended by the D.C. fire department.
Police then notified Fairfax prosecutors that Freitag was under investigation for lack of truthfulness. Former chief deputy Commonwealth’s attorney Casey Lingan said his office then dismissed a number of Freitag’s pending cases. Descano said Lingan should have immediately pursued Wilson’s case, while Wilson was still in the Fairfax jail and subject to local jurisdiction. Once Wilson was shipped to state prison, undoing his conviction involved more complex legal filings.
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.-The Washington Post
Review of videos from Freitag’s squad car showed Miller never crossed the center line before being stopped, which meant he had no legal reason to stop the car or search it.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to vacate these cases” handled by Freitag, Descano told reporters after the judge’s hearing Friday. “Virginia law does not even conceive of this being a necessary step.”