In a statement released earlier today, Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano announced that he wouldn’t be filling charges against a state trooper who openly mocked a black man who had been pulled over during a traffic stop in Fairfax County. The behavior was caught on video by the man’s cell phone, which the officer knew was recording when he aggressively removed him from the vehicle.
The footage shows State Trooper Charles Hewitt tell the victim he was going to get “whooped in front of lord and all creation” and proceeded to directly address the camera while saying “watch the show, folks” before becoming violent in his attempts to remove the man from his car.
When the video of the incident went viral, there were calls from people of all backgrounds for action to be taken against the trooper. Not only were the physical actions taken by Hewitt disturbing, after all, but his behavior frustrated members of law enforcement because it harmed their credibility with the Fairfax community.
After a substantial investigation into the incident, however, Descano said Hewitt “could have used a more appropriate demeanor,” but “his actions do not meet the burden of a criminal offense as it currently appears in the Code of Virginia.”
Many of the people who saw the video say there should have been more options for moving forward in this situation and several community leaders were quick to suggest there should be legislative adjustments to the code to make sure members of law enforcement can be held accountable for their actions when they behavior inappropriately.
In that vein, restoring the public’s trust with law enforcement and helping ensure Virginians of all backgrounds are treated fairly were some of the reasons the General Assembly was called into its recent special session. In reaction to Descano’s announcement and recognizing the need for movement, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy highlighted how one of the bills she already introduced could have been used to hold Hewitt accountable.
“While this disgusting video cuts out at the end, the article says the officer ‘put his hands around Thompson’s neck,’” Carroll Foy tweeted. “If the state Senate passes my bill, any officer who uses a chokehold would be charged with a Class 6 felony.”
As it stands now, the man Hewitt became violent towards has a lawyer and they’re discussing a potential civil case. In the long term, however, the entire interaction and the lack of legal actions available to hold Hewitt accountable are viewed by many Virginians as a prime example of why reforms are needed.