In the end, nothing will change, the cops will get away with it, their budget will get bigger, and nothing change
Fairfax County to hire expert to examine policies on information in police shootings
By Tom Jackman
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, responding to criticism that the county has not released timely information on the 2013 police killing of John Geer, voted Tuesday to hire an outside expert to help it review and revise the rules on disclosure in officer-involved shootings.
Fairfax officials have dealt with fatal police shootings before, and rulings on whether a shooting is justifiable are normally made by the Fairfax prosecutor within three or four months. But in this case, 16 months have passed since the death of Geer without a decision by local or federal prosecutors on whether the officer who shot him, Adam D. Torres, should be charged. Fairfax police have stood by their policy of not discussing a case before a charging decision is made.
Some police departments have policies stating that an officer’s name shall be released within a certain number of days or weeks after a shooting, while others do not have a policy. Fairfax’s policy states that the police shall release an officer’s age, length of service and assignment after a shooting, which Fairfax police refused to do in the Geer case until last week. County policy also holds that the chief may release an officer’s name only after a decision has been made on charging the officer and after a review of the officer’s safety.
After a year had passed, Geer’s family filed a civil lawsuit seeking the name of the officer and the circumstances of the shooting. Geer was standing, unarmed, in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse when Torres fired one shot into Geer’s chest, witnesses and police said. The police released Torres’s name last week, and the judge in the civil case ordered them to release far more information to the Geer family’s lawyers, though that has not yet happened.
“Fairfax County residents deserve a government that is open and transparent,” board chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said, “and they deserve to know the facts relating to the incident in a timely manner,” subject to the concerns of the investigation and the officer’s safety. “The Board of Supervisors does not believe it should take a court order, entered 16 months after the shooting, for information about an incident like this to be released.”
John Geer was standing, unarmed, in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse when he was shot by a Fairfax County police officer, witnesses and police said. (Photo by Maura Harrington)
Bulova’s motion was not universally welcomed. Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said there was no need to seek outside assistance.
“I feel very strongly,” said Hyland, head of the board’s public safety committee, “that the staff we have, in our police chief, our former police chief and county attorney have the capacity to look at the rules we have been following to come back to the board to make recommendations as to how these rules or policies should be changed.”
Hyland was referring to Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., who has refused to discuss the Geer shooting at all; deputy county executive and former police chief David Rohrer; and County Attorney David P. Bobzien, whose office has resisted investigative requests from both local and federal prosecutors, both prosecutors have said.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) reluctantly supported the idea, saying it was “too little too late.” He said it was the board’s “job to make policy, not hire an ‘outside expert’ to do our job for us.”
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
County board to review procedures in wake of police shooting
Lengthy investigation, lack of transparency central issues in Geer case
by Kali Schumitz
Fairfax County will hire an outside consultant to review its public disclosure rules, following a controversial police shooting in 2013.
In a resolution Tuesday, members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said the unprecedented length of the investigation into the officer-involved shooting death of John Geer has led to a lack of closure for the family and a perceived lack of transparency to the general public.
Geer was shot in the doorway of his home by a Fairfax County police officer in August 2013 when police responded to a domestic dispute. He was unarmed, although police have said they believed he had weapons inside the home.
After completing their internal investigation, county police turned the matter over to the county prosecutor’s office for review. Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh determined that his office had a conflict of interest in the case and passed it on to the U.S. Department of Justice for review.
The Justice Department has provided little public information, even to county officials, about the status of its review.
In the meantime, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed the police chief and county attorney to comply with a court request for documents related to the case as part of a civil suit. A lawsuit has been filed against the county on behalf of Geer’s children.
“Although compliance with the judge’s order in the Geer case should go a long way to meet the demands for transparency relating to the shooting of Mr. Geer, the Board of Supervisors does not believe it should take a court order, entered 16 months after the shooting, for information about an incident like this to be released,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) said, reading the motion that the board approved.
Bulova said she has reached out to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring for assistance on the process of finding an independent expert to support the county’s policy review. The board asked that the contract be issued by March.
The measure did not receive the unanimous support of the board.
Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) disputed the notion that the county has done anything wrong. It has been a year since the case was turned over to the Department of Justice, and it sat with the county prosecutor’s office for several months before that, Frey said.
“It is not the fault of any of our actions that the U.S. Department of Justice has not completed its investigation,” Frey said. “That is not anything that we did. There is no lack of transparency on our part.”
Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) also voted against the motion because he believes the county has the resources to do such a review in-house.
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who co-sponsored Bulova’s motion, said while he has faith in the abilities of county staff, he believes an independent review is necessary to alleviate the public’s concerns.
“There is a perception within the public that police should not be advising us on police disclosure procedures,” Foust said. “I think going outside for that expertise should go a long way toward addressing anyone’s concern.”
Fairfax County Supervisors Seek Outside Help with Transparency
“Independent expertise” to advise on information disclosure policies.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova (center) reads her statement calling for outside input on improving information disclosure policies. Photo by Tim Peterson.
By Tim Peterson
Eight days after offering the public the first of any kind of official explanation for officer-involved shooting of Springfield resident John Geer, the Board of Supervisors took another step.
Though they didn’t share any further information on the case, chairman Sharon Bulova and the panel returned from an extended closed session on Jan. 13 with a motion with the potential to affect government transparency.
“Until John Geer was shot on August 2, 2013,” Bulova’s motion statement reads, “the procedures adopted by the Police Chief for public disclosure regarding officer involved shootings seemed to establish a reasonable balance between the county’s duty to make timely disclosure and the concerns the police chief has expressed about conducting a professional investigation and the safety of officers involved in a shooting incident.”
The statement goes on to explain that the police policies don’t account for the way this particular case has been passed from the Fairfax County Police Department to the Commonwealth Attorney to the Department of Justice, all over the course of the past 16 months and change.
THOSE 16 MONTHS included a $12 million civil case filed against the county. As part of that case, a Fairfax Circuit Court judge has ordered more documents and records of the police action the day of the shooting be produced within the month.
#“The board is also aware of concerns expressed by some members of the public to the effect that the police chief should not be responsible for both establishing and implementing the policies for disclosures relating to police-involved shootings,” Bulova’s statement reads.
#There are no more admissions or revelations on the Geer case itself. Instead, Bulova claims to have “reached out to Attorney General Mark Herring for his suggestions for a process for us to identify professional organizations and/or resources that can work with us to review our policies and recommend appropriate changes.”
The idea would be to prevent such a delay from happening again, given a case with similar circumstances.
In addition to her attempt to connect with Herring, Bulova moved to direct the County Executive to locate “independent expertise in the field of Police Department operations and, specifically, in the area of policies and procedures with respect to information disclosures in the case of police involved shootings.”
The County Executive would also be charged with figuring out funding source and procedure for the board to retain such a resource.
Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) was the first of all the supervisors to weigh in on the motion.
“I reluctantly support the motion,” he said. “I think it’s too little too late. The actual motion gives no policy direction on transparency, though I believe that’s the intent.
“There’s no provision to engage our citizens in the process,” he continued. “This to me smells of outsourcing policy-making. I hope that’s not the intent. I believe we need to engage our citizens, engage our staff and have a transparency conversation on this topic.”
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) didn’t read the motion as an attempt to exclude the public, nor as too little too late. But, he conceded, “there is a perception in the public that police should not be advising us on police disclosure procedures. I think that’s legitimate.”
Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully) voiced his lack of support for the motion, saying: “Our role in the investigation was completed promptly. “It’s not any of our actions, or a result of anything we did that the U.S. Department of Justice has not completed their investigation over the course of a year. That’s not anything we did, there’s no lack of transparency on our part or any fault of our process.”
SUPERVISORS Cook (R-Braddock), Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), McKay (D-Lee) and Smyth (D-Providence) all signed on with the motion, acknowledging the benefit of looking at policy changes to speed up the information disclosure process.
“The community needs to know where does the buck stop?” said Hudgins. “It actually does stop with us. This gives us more than the opportunity to maintain the due diligence to the case that it needs. It gives us also an opportunity to work with the community, I hope.”
Bulova’s motion calls for contracting with whatever organization the County Executive, in consultation with the Attorney General’s office, comes up with by February or March.
The motion passed with only supervisors Frey and Hyland dissenting.
Facebook-organized Protesters in Fairfax Demand Justice for John Geer
Supervisors’ responsibility also highlighted.
Jason McCormack of Centreville demonstrates for increased police accountability at a Jan. 8 protest in Fairfax. Photo by Tim Peterson.
By Tim Peterson
Mike Curtis of Manassas (left) and Nathan Cox of Richmond (right) spoke to media and demonstrators demanding an independent investigation of John Geer’s death.
Cars honked in acknowledgement as Centreville resident Jason McCormack stood alongside Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax, near the Fairfax County Courthouse, with a handmade sign that read “Cops Are Bound By The Law, Too.”
McCormack had joined several dozen protesters from around the state, braving freezing temperatures in the late morning on Jan. 8, demanding Fairfax County police answer for the shooting death of Springfield resident John Geer.
The protest was organized through a Facebook group called “Justice for John Geer” that at the time had nearly 700 members.
“I’m here for police accountability all across the board,” McCormack said, his head almost completely obscured by a Baltimore Ravens beanie and a grey and black scarf.
“I lived in the court across from the Geer’s house and it could’ve been my kids out playing when the shot was fired. It could’ve been a whole other story. We need to stop letting the gun be the first thing you pull.”
Following a domestic dispute with his longtime partner Maura Harrington, police had arrived at Geer’s home and spoke with him for over half an hour while he stood in his doorway, unarmed, with his hands raised and resting on the frame.
As he began to lower his hands, he was shot in the chest and died in his house without receiving medical attention.
By Tim Peterson
On the Monday before the demonstration, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova came forward to release an explanation from the county for the first time in nearly 17 months since the Aug. 29, 2013 shooting.
Bulova’s statement came with a brief official account from the county of the events surrounding the shooting, that named the officer involved as PFC Adam Torres.
“I have been frustrated and disappointed with how long this investigation has taken,” she said, citing the case’s changing hands from the Commonwealth Attorney to the Department of Justice as a reason for the delay in information being released.
Protest organizer Mike Curtis of Manassas urged demonstrators and the public to demand more explanation from their public leaders.
“Don't just let her have her few minutes on the news and tell everybody she's for the same thing you are,” he said. “She needs to be held accountable too.”
Curtis is also one of the founders of the Justice for John Geer Facebook group.
He was joined in addressing the media and demonstrators by Richmond resident Nathan Cox, who founded the public interest Virginia Cop Block that seeks police accountability and transparency.
“If we don't hold our public servants accountable, things will just continue to run on a tyrannical type of basis,” Cox said. “We're out here today because of the lack of a legitimate investigation. I personally am not cool with the police investigating themselves. We're out here today to demand an independent investigation, no conflict of interest.”
Geer’s friends Jeff Stewart and Jerry Santos also attended the event.
“It’s encouraging that some number of people are paying attention, encouraging that something organized is taking place and encouraging we got the number out with the conditions outdoors,” said Santos.
“It’s really discouraging that the county continues to be tone-deaf and half-blind,” he continued. “They don’t get it that they’re on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, the wrong side of decency.”
Curtis said the group plans to continue its mission of seeking justice for Geer through email campaigns, attending public meetings and organizing additional events.
“This is the first step in what we're trying to do,” he said. “We need to keep going, keep thinking this isn't the end, it's just the beginning.”
Gerry Hyland killed police oversight after the cops gunned down unarmed citizens...you elected now toss him out. he works in the cops best interest and not yours.,