An internal investigation is underway after an officer let a Virginia lawmaker off with a warning after stopping him on suspicion of intoxicated driving and giving him a breathalyzer test that showed an alcohol level slightly above the legal limit, officials said Thursday.
The town of Christiansburg released a statement saying the police department is trying to determine if the actions taken during the encounter with Del. Chris Hurst violated agency policy, The Roanoke Times reported. Hurst is a Democrat who represents parts of Montgomery and Giles counties.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania filed legislation Thursday that would mostly eliminate legislators’ immunity from arrest during the General Assembly session. That immunity is guaranteed in the state constitution.
Hurst, a Montgomery Democrat, was stopped at about 2 a.m. in Christiansburg and registered a .085%, just above the .08% legal limit for blood alcohol, according to a statement issued by Christiansburg officials and obtained by news outlets. Hurst passed other field sobriety tests and was eventually released and advised to wait at a nearby Walmart before allowing his passenger to drive them both home, according to accounts from both Hurst and city officials.
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"I didn't know we had amnesty, and I think it's ridiculous that members have amnesty over normal citizens," said Reeves, a former police officer. "Why should we be any better than anybody else?"
Even if Hurst had been taken into custody and a more reliable test administered, a charge likely would have been precluded due to a provision for legislative immunity in the state constitution, according to an account Christiansburg officials released late Tuesday.
Hurst issued a detailed apology on Wednesday, saying that while it may be true he couldn’t be charged, “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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Article IV of the Virginia constitution says that during a session, legislators may not be arrested for anything short of “treason, felony, or breach of peace.”
As for the internal investigation, it must be complete within 30 days, and the town says it will provide additional information once the investigation is complete.
The police 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, according to the release.
Reeves' bill says members of the General Assembly would be not be immune from arrest, with an exception. Reeves wanted to prevent mischief by not allowing citizen-arrest warrants. Prosecutors or law enforcement would have to charge lawmakers if the offense took place in their jurisdiction.
Reeves said lawmakers did some research and found the provision dates back to the 1700s. The intent was to prevent politically motivated law enforcement from arresting lawmakers to prevent them from getting to the Capitol to vote for bills.
"Perhaps you had that problem back in the day, but the delegate's mishaps brought it to focus now," Reeves said.
Hurst won his delegate seat in 2017. He had garnered national attention and a large social media after his girlfriend, TV reporter Alison Parker, was shot and killed along with her cameraman Adam Ward by a former co-worker during a live broadcast.