But that same month, Fairfax internal affairs investigators began looking into Freitag’s traffic stops as a result of citizen complaints, and they watched the in-car videos of the young officer’s work on the streets, documents provided by Freitag’s lawyers show. In September 2019, Freitag, then 23, admitted to internal affairs he had made numerous “pretextual” traffic stops, in which an officer uses a false reason to pull someone over and search or arrest them. Freitag, an officer for three years, was placed on paid administrative duty while the police continued to investigate him.
Wilson’s lawyer, Marvin D. Miller, filed a motion in February 2020 seeking information about the investigation into Freitag. Internal investigators then pressed Freitag about the case the following month, challenging his claims that Wilson had crossed the yellow line on the road, failed to pull over when signaled and had illegally tinted windows, court records show. Facing a recommended termination, Freitag resigned in May 2020 and was hired three months later as a deputy by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Brevard said Fairfax had not disclosed Freitag’s true employment history despite numerous inquiries. Brevard fired Freitag on April 1.
Miller’s motion turned into a case for Wilson’s release, supported by Fairfax prosecutors. In April of this year, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Daniel E. Ortiz vacated Wilson’s convictions and ordered him freed, saying “Freitag’s fabricated grounds for the stop, police report, and warrant made under oath fundamentally tampered with the judicial machinery and subverted the integrity of the court itself.” Wilson was released after serving 21 months.
Freitag strongly defended his actions in two separate interviews and falsely asserted that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Fairfax police. Told that Fairfax prosecutors had said in a court filing that the FBI was investigating him for possible criminal activity, Freitag said in June 2020, “This is all news to me, I was cleared of any criminal misconduct.” No criminal charges have been filed.
On the same day that Wilson was released in April of this year, Freitag was arrested in Brevard County for allegedly crashing his vehicle into another, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence, court records show. His case there is pending.
Miller and Alexandria civil rights lawyer Victor M. Glasberg filed a federal suit against Fairfax on Wilson’s behalf in July, raising the possibility of a class action if it could be shown that Fairfax police engaged in a “custom, practice, or usage” of making pretextual or illegal traffic stops. But before Fairfax even filed a response to the suit, it entered into settlement negotiations and agreed to the $390,000 settlement on Oct. 7, both sides said.
“Fairfax County has reached a $390,000 settlement in the case brought by Elon Wilson,” county spokesman Anthony Castrilli said, “to reimburse him for economic losses as a result of his arrest and incarceration.” Castrilli said Fairfax police continually train and instruct officers “that constitutional grounds must exist for any stop” and that the department “acted quickly to investigate when it became aware of the allegations that former officer Freitag had been engaged in unconstitutional stops.”
Through his attorneys, Wilson declined to be interviewed. Miller said that Wilson was “holding up okay” and that the settlement will “help him establish a stable footing. This case has been a tragedy in his life that was needless … ultimately, however, the facts came out and the right result was obtained, after a while, and the county recognized they had an obligation to him and they satisfied it.”
Freitag and his lawyer in the federal suit, David J. Fudala, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
After word of the internal investigation into Freitag first reached prosecutors in September 2019, they dismissed 21 pending cases, including one in which a man was charged with felony assault on Freitag. But prosecutors counted about 400 convictions in cases brought by Freitag during his three years as a patrol officer, mostly traffic and misdemeanors, and said in April they would move to vacate all of those convictions. The process to do so is convoluted, however, and none have been vacated yet. Wilson was the only defendant still incarcerated as a result of a Freitag case when he was released.
“We continue to actively pursue a remedy to the 400 convictions associated with Officer Freitag,” Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve T. Descano said, “despite the fact that Virginia law affords us shamefully few avenues for doing so. In addition to working through the voluminous amount of material necessary to get these cases in front of the court, I am also working with our partners in state government to provide additional tools to prosecutors in the coming legislative session to address unjust convictions in such instances.”