The Smyth County Sheriff's Office is conducting an internal investigation following a complaint made against one of its deputies earlier this week.
Sixty-year-old Afra Croney, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was traveling through Virginia on her way to Las Vegas on April 8 when she was pulled over by a deputy on Interstate 81 in Smyth County. During the stop, she said, the deputy threatened her.
Croney said the officer told her she was traveling at 88 mph, which she disputed, saying her speedometer needle only hit 75 mph. In a written complaint sent to the sheriff's office, she said the deputy, Travis Bresette, wrote her a speeding ticket for traveling 81 mph in a 70 mph zone.
“When I questioned why he wrote the ticket for 81 miles instead, he threatens to make it worse,” she wrote in her complaint. “Officer Bresette also threatened to put me in jail and tow my vehicle if I did not sign the ticket, forcing me to sign it.”
Current Virginia law requires that any person who refuses to sign a traffic-related summons be arrested and taken before a magistrate. A new law dropping the signature requirement and allowing officers to instead give the person notice of the time and place of their hearing goes into effect July 1. That law was aimed at preventing unnecessary confrontations during traffic stops.
Croney said when she pushed the matter of the speed, “He said, 'Let's stop the argument before you die, and I die,” she wrote in her complaint.
She took Bresette's statement as a threat, she said, and feared for her safety. She said the experience made her fearful of being pulled over during the remainder of her trip, a fear she said she never had prior to her encounter in Smyth County.
“This incident redefined my view of travel safety,” she wrote in the complaint. “We are all aware that there are bad people everywhere. However, law enforcers are supposed to protect and make travelers feel more protected, not threatened [sic] their lives without any cause.”
Croney said she was unarmed and presented no threat to the deputy.
Sheriff Chip Shuler said he did not believe Bresette intended to threaten Croney, saying the deputy was likely referring to the flow of traffic passing by them on the interstate.
“I would assume that if he said that, he's probably meaning getting run over or getting hit by a car while they're on the side of the road, which is an extremely dangerous place to be for both,” he said.
Interstate traffic stops have long been a concern for local law enforcement, Shuler said. In 2008, a Virginia State trooper was hospitalized for several months and had to learn how to walk again after being struck during a traffic stop. In 2017, a Smyth County deputy narrowly escaped serious injury when his patrol car was rear-ended by a vehicle following behind him as he pulled into the emergency lane to respond to a crash.
“The longer we're here, it's more likely we'll get hit,” Shuler said.
But Croney said the deputy gave no indication that he was concerned about traffic or any other safety matters. She said he seemed angry that she wouldn't accept his claim that she driving at 88 mph.
A counselor by trade, Croney said she felt compelled to alert Bresette's superiors because she felt he was “an imminent danger to public safety.”
She said she hopes the official complaint will help address the issue and that precautionary measures would be taken to avoid any future occurrences.
Shuler said he appreciates when people make complaints just as he appreciates when they call to give praise to his deputies.
“I always like to know,” he said. “It's part of the police work. We try to help people. Sometimes people aren't happy with how things turn out, but of course I want to hear about it. If I don't hear about it, I don't know about it.”
Though he would not be able to publicly discuss any disciplinary action that might be taken as a result of the investigation, Shuler said he would follow up with appropriate measures as necessary. He also said the sheriff's office will be in contact with Croney to let her know the outcome of the investigation.