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Propriety of vehicle stop is jury question

Where the parties disputed what led to an off-duty police officer to stop the plaintiffs’ vehicle, a jury will have to decide if the stop was supported by probable cause.


Four minor children, by their mother and next friend, Tasha Hudson, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Virginia law against Jon Freivald, a police officer employed by the City of Charlottesville Police Department, and another unknown defendant. The action arises from a vehicle stop in Nelson County, Virginia.

Plaintiffs claim that they were illegally seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned in violation of Virginia law. Presently before the court are cross motions for summary judgment.

Probable cause

Freivald argues that he had probable cause to believe that Hudson violated two state traffic laws: Virginia Code §§ 46.2-804 and 46.2-842.1. The record contains conflicting versions of what transpired before the traffic stop. These factual disputes go to the heart of whether probable cause existed to stop plaintiffs for violating either state statute. Consequently, the court concludes that neither side is entitled to summary judgment on the probable cause issue.

The parties also dispute whether, because Freivald stopped plaintiffs’ vehicle outside of the territorial jurisdiction of the Charlottesville Police Department, that rendered it unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The court concludes that the fact that Freivald stopped plaintiffs’ vehicle outside his jurisdiction does not, standing alone, render the stop unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. At most, it is “merely a factor to be considered” in assessing the reasonableness of the seizure. The “primary factor,” however, “is the ‘existence of probable cause.”


Freivald also contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiffs initially dispute whether Freivald can claim qualified immunity as a defense since the conduct of which they complain occurred outside the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Charlottesville Police Department. At this stage of the proceedings, however, the court finds it unnecessary to resolve this issue. Even assuming that Freivald was acting within the scope of his official duties and therefore eligible to assert the defense of qualified immunity, the current record precludes an award of qualified immunity on summary judgment.

The evidence presented, when viewed in plaintiffs’ favor, indicates that Hudson was driving the posted speed limit in the left lane before the stop and that she could not safely change lanes because of nearby vehicles. The court is convinced that no reasonable officer could have believed that there was probable cause to initiate a traffic stop under these circumstances, much less a stop outside the officer’s territorial jurisdiction.

False imprisonment

Plaintiffs assert a supplemental state law claim of false imprisonment. Freivald argues that he had authority to initiate the stop pursuant to another state statute or as a citizen’s arrest under Virginia common law. Freivald’s first argument is based on § 15.2-1724 of the Virginia Code. This statute, titled “Police and other officers may be sent beyond territorial limits,” permits police officers to “go or be sent” outside their assigned jurisdictions under certain circumstances.

Here, however, Freivald allegedly observed one or more problematic traffic violations in Nelson County while commuting from his home there; he was not “sent’ to that neighboring jurisdiction. Even when the evidence is construed in Freivald’s favor, the court is unable to conclude that § 15.2-1724 authorized him to stop plaintiffs’ vehicle outside his territorial jurisdiction.

Freivald’s second argument—that the stop was a valid citizen’s arrest—presents a closer question. The Supreme Court of Virginia has concluded that a law enforcement officer acting outside his territorial jurisdiction has the same authority to make a citizen’s arrest as would any other private citizen. Under Virginia common law, a private citizen may arrest another for a breach of the peace committed in his presence.

Whether the stop was a valid citizen’s arrest cannot be decided on summary judgment. If a jury were to credit plaintiffs’ evidence, no reasonable jury could find that Hudson committed a breach of the peace in Freivald’s presence. If a jury were to credit Freivald’s testimony, it could potentially find that the aggressive driving described by Freivald, which is punishable as a misdemeanor offense under Virginia law, also constituted a breach of the peace.

Cross-motions for summary judgment denied.

Hudson v. Freivald, Case No. 3:18-cv-00096, March 25, 2021. WDVA at Charlottesville (Conrad). VLW 021-3-140. 20 pp.

VLW 021-3-140

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