I rarely agree with the Post on anything but the paper should get a Pulitzer for their groundbreaking work on this issue years before the rest of the US caught up on it
Fairfax County officials plan to scrap a policy that enables police stonewalling
By Editorial Board January 19
ANY DAY now, Fairfax County officials may drop their stonewalling response to the death of John Geer, who was shot by a county police officer in 2013 as he stood unarmed in the doorway of his home. Any day now, the county police and county attorney’s office may produce the documents they’ve been ordered by a judge to turn over in a civil suit brought by Mr. Geer’s family. After nearly 17 months of foot-dragging and unwarranted obstructions mounted by the county, it’s high time.
Even the county’s Board of Supervisors appears to have lost patience with the arrogance of the police and the county attorney. Having previously ordered these officials to fully comply with the judge’s order, the board last week decided that the policies governing disclosure in police-involved shootings — until now determined by the police themselves — should be rewritten by an outside expert.
Supervisors adopted a motion by Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) that said they are “sensitive” to concerns that the police chief “should not be responsible for both establishing and implementing the policies for disclosures related to police-involved shootings.”
That statement, better late than never, represents progress, although the board should broaden it to include other sorts of police-involved killings. (Eric Garner, the New York man who died at the hands of a police officer in Staten Island who put him in a chokehold, was not shot.)
It also signals a clear reprimand. Although the supervisors have been complicit in the delays and lack of disclosure until now, they are right to have said that it should not “take a court order, entered 16 months after the shooting, for information about an incident like this to be released.”
The documents that will be released to Mr. Geer’s family in compliance with the order should clear up a number of questions that still surround the death.
First among them is why Officer Adam D. Torres shot Mr. Geer, hitting him in the chest and killing him. Having maintained a virtual information blackout since the incident, police recently said that Mr. Geer was “displaying a firearm that he threatened to use against the police,” a statement at odds with witness accounts and which, coming so long after the fact, lacks credibility.
Mr. Geer was shot after speaking to police from behind his storm door for some 45 minutes. He had had a noisy dispute that day with his longtime girlfriend, who is also the mother of his children, but he had committed no crime. It is outrageous that nearly a year and a half has passed with no explanation for his death.
After a dispute between state prosecutors and county officials over the release of information, the Geer case was transferred to the Justice Department, where the civil rights division is investigating. Meanwhile, county police have refused to budge from a policy of withholding information until a decision on whether to bring charges against Mr. Torres is made.
Such a policy makes no sense when it is used as a pretext, month after month, to keep the public in the dark. In deciding to rewrite the policy, the county board has taken the first step toward a more sensible stance on disclosure.
New details about John Geer’s death further undermine police department’s credibility
SIXTEEN MONTHS after a Fairfax County police officer shot John Geer to death on the threshold of his home, the police department has finally offered what it would like people to believe is a justification for the shooting. Yet the “information” provided by the police is so skeletal, so late and so jarringly at odds with other information that it serves only to further undermine the department’s credibility.
Under pressure from federal prosecutors and a state court, the police did — finally — divulge the name of the officer who shot Mr. Geer once in the chest, killing him. It is Adam D. Torres, an eight-year veteran of the force who is 31 years old.
Other information released by the department makes scant sense.
The police say the officer fired because Mr. Geer was “displaying a firearm that he threatened to use against the police.” Yet if, in fact, Mr. Geer did brandish a weapon, why did Officer Torres alone fire his weapon while several others on the scene did not? Why did Officer Torres fire just one bullet, when police are trained to fire multiple shots in the event they face a lethal threat?
And if Mr. Geer was shot because police saw him flash a weapon, why in the world would it take them 16 months to say so — to provide so basic a piece of information?
Moreover, the police said that they found a loaded gun inside the house, a few feet from the doorway where Mr. Geer was shot — but that the gun was holstered. Does that mean that the officer discharged his weapon because he glimpsed a holstered weapon? Did he ever see the weapon unholstered?
If Mr. Geer threatened police with a weapon, why did none of the other witnesses, including neighbors who watched the standoff, see a gun? Why would Mr. Geer’s father have said months ago that police told him Mr. Geer was unarmed when he was shot, an assertion that the police never denied?
Police officials had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to release the most bare-bones information, which should have been released within hours of Mr. Geer’s shooting. Now they offer dribs and drabs rather than a credible and full narrative of an event at Mr. Geer’s home that lasted more than a half-hour. Last month, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows ordered police to release information about the shooting to Mr. Geer’s family within 30 days. The information provided so far hardly counts as compliance.
Will it take further court orders, further subpoenas from the Justice Department and further pointed letters from Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the new head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to pry a full accounting from the police department? And will Fairfax’s elected officials continue to stand by as the department re-brands the county as a bastion of official arrogance?