America’s jails and prisons are full of men and women who have been imprisoned because of a cop’s lies.
The story of a Washington, D.C. firefighter who was jailed in Virginia after an illegal traffic stop is no exception. Elon Wilson was driving with a family member in Fairfax County, Va. one morning in April 2018, when then-Fairfax County police officer Jonathan A. Freitag pulled them over.
Freitag’s trail of lies began immediately. In his reports, the cop claimed Wilson had driven across the yellow line, was too slow to pull over after Freitag turned on his lights, and had illegally tinted windows, according to The Washington Post.
The officer asked Wilson and his family member to step out of the car and searched the vehicle after allegedly smelling marijuana. It was then that he found a bag of 450 OxyContin tablets and two handguns.
Wilson said the guns and pills belonged to his family member, but prosecutors pressured him into taking a plea deal to avoid a longer sentence. He got a three-year sentence, which he had been serving since July 2019.
Around that time, someone filed a complaint against Freitag with the Fairfax County police and following investigations; a pattern of him allegedly falsifying reports and removing drugs from the police property room was found. His department was ready to fire him for sloppy stops and reports. Instead, Freitag resigned and took a cop job in Florida.
Internal affairs reviews further found that many of Freitag’s stops were racially motivated.
Wilson’s lawyer, upon learning of Freitag’s conduct, requested video of his 2018 stop (this wasn’t previously disclosed) and learned that his client did not have tinted windows or illegally cross the yellow line. Wilson also promptly pulled over. Any evidence discovered from an illegal stop cannot be used against a defendant.
Wilson was released soon after prosecutors supported a motion to vacate his conviction.
As for Freitag, he has not been charged with any crimes, but is currently under federal investigation in connection with his time as a Fairfax County cop.