• Exclusive: Secret interrogation facility reveals aspects of war on terror in US
• ‘They disappeared us’: protester details 17-hour shackling without basic rights
• Accounts describe police brutality, missing 15-year-old and one man’s death
While US military and intelligence interrogation impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles and even a cage – focuses on American citizens, most often poor, black and brown. ‘When you go in,’ Brian Jacob Church told the Guardian, ‘nobody knows what happened to you.’ Video: Phil Batta for the Guardian; editing: Mae Ryan
Spencer Ackerman in Chicago
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.
Two ex-senior Justice Department officials say allegations about police operation are ‘very disturbing’ and raise serious questions about constitutional violations
The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.
Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
• Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
• Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
• Shackling for prolonged periods.
• Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
• Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
Brian Jacob Church, a protester known as one of the “Nato Three”, was held and questioned at Homan Square in 2012 following a police raid. Officers restrained Church for the better part of a day, denying him access to an attorney, before sending him to a nearby police station to be booked and charged.
This building looks innocent enough. But those familiar with the secretive interrogation and holding facility describe a shocking display of police abuses
“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown.
Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.
“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.
Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution.
“This Homan Square revelation seems to me to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years,” Taylor said, “of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement.”
Much remains hidden about Homan Square. The Chicago police department did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about the facility. But after the Guardian published this story, the department provided a statement insisting, without specifics, that there is nothing untoward taking place at what it called the “sensitive” location, home to undercover units.
“CPD [Chicago police department] abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property,” the statement said, something numerous attorneys and one Homan Square arrestee have denied.
“There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square,” it continued.
The Chicago police statement did not address how long into an arrest or detention those records are generated or their availability to the public. A department spokesperson did not respond to a detailed request for clarification.
When a Guardian reporter arrived at the warehouse on Friday, a man at the gatehouse outside refused any entrance and would not answer questions. “This is a secure facility. You’re not even supposed to be standing here,” said the man, who refused to give his name.
A former Chicago police superintendent and a more recently retired detective, both of whom have been inside Homan Square in the last few years in a post-police capacity, said the police department did not operate out of the warehouse until the late 1990s.
But in detailing episodes involving their clients over the past several years, lawyers described mad scrambles that led to the closed doors of Homan Square, a place most had never heard of previously. The facility was even unknown to Rob Warden, the founder of Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, until the Guardian informed him of the allegations of clients who vanish into inherently coercive police custody.
“They just disappear,” said Anthony Hill, a criminal defense attorney, “until they show up at a district for charging or are just released back out on the street.”
‘They were held incommunicado for much longer than I think should be permitted in this country – anywhere – but particularly given the strong constitutional rights afforded to people who are being charged with crimes,” said Sarah Gelsomino, the lawyer for Brian Jacob Church. Photograph: Phil Batta/Guardian
Jacob Church learned about Homan Square the hard way. On May 16 2012, he and 11 others were taken there after police infiltrated their protest against the Nato summit. Church says officers cuffed him to a bench for an estimated 17 hours, intermittently interrogating him without reading his Miranda rights to remain silent. It would take another three hours – and an unusual lawyer visit through a wire cage – before he was finally charged with terrorism-related offenses at the nearby 11th district station, where he was made to sign papers, fingerprinted and photographed.
In preparation for the Nato protest, Church, who is from Florida, had written a phone number for the National Lawyers Guild on his arm as a precautionary measure. Once taken to Homan Square, Church asked explicitly to call his lawyers, and said he was denied.
“Essentially, I wasn’t allowed to make any contact with anybody,” Church told the Guardian, in contradiction of a police guidance on permitting phone calls and legal counsel to arrestees.
Church’s left wrist was cuffed to a bar behind a bench in windowless cinderblock cell, with his ankles cuffed together. He remained in those restraints for about 17 hours.
“I had essentially figured, ‘All right, well, they disappeared us and so we’re probably never going to see the light of day again,’” Church said.
Though the raid attracted major media attention, a team of attorneys could not find Church through 12 hours of “active searching”, Sarah Gelsomino, Church’s lawyer, recalled. No booking record existed. Only after she and others made a “major stink” with contacts in the offices of the corporation counsel and Mayor Rahm Emanuel did they even learn about Homan Square.
They sent another attorney to the facility, where he ultimately gained entry, and talked to Church through a floor-to-ceiling chain-link metal cage. Finally, hours later, police took Church and his two co-defendants to a nearby police station for booking.
After serving two and a half years in prison, Church is currently on parole after he and his co-defendants were found not guilty in 2014 of terrorism-related offenses but guilty of lesser charges of possessing an incendiary device and the misdemeanor of “mob action”.
It’s almost like they throw a black bag over your head and make you disappear for a day or two
Brian Jacob Church
The access that Nato Three attorneys received to Homan Square was an exception to the rule, even if Jacob Church’s experience there was not.
Three attorneys interviewed by the Guardian report being personally turned away from Homan Square between 2009 and 2013 without being allowed access to their clients. Two more lawyers who hadn’t been physically denied described it as a place where police withheld information about their clients’ whereabouts. Church was the only person who had been detained at the facility who agreed to talk with the Guardian: their lawyers say others fear police retaliation.
One man in January 2013 had his name changed in the Chicago central bookings database and then taken to Homan Square without a record of his transfer being kept, according to Eliza Solowiej of Chicago’s First Defense Legal Aid. (The man, the Guardian understands, wishes to be anonymous; his current attorney declined to confirm Solowiej’s account.) She found out where he was after he was taken to the hospital with a head injury.
“He said that the officers caused his head injuries in an interrogation room at Homan Square. I had been looking for him for six to eight hours, and every department member I talked to said they had never heard of him,” Solowiej said. “He sent me a phone pic of his head injuries because I had seen him in a police station right before he was transferred to Homan Square without any.”
Bartmes, another Chicago attorney, said that in September 2013 she got a call from a mother worried that her 15-year-old son had been picked up by police before dawn. A sympathetic sergeant followed up with the mother to say her son was being questioned at Homan Square in connection to a shooting and would be released soon. When hours passed, Bartmes traveled to Homan Square, only to be refused entry for nearly an hour.
An officer told her, “Well, you can’t just stand here taking notes, this is a secure facility, there are undercover officers, and you’re making people very nervous,” Bartmes recalled. Told to leave, she said she would return in an hour if the boy was not released. He was home, and not charged, after “12, maybe 13” hours in custody.
On February 2, 2013, John Hubbard was taken to Homan Square. Hubbard never walked out. The Chicago Tribune reported that the 44-year old was found “unresponsive inside an interview room”, and pronounced dead. After publication, the Cook County medical examiner told the Guardian that the cause of death was determined to be heroin intoxication.
Homan Square is hardly concerned exclusively with terrorism. Several special units operate outside of it, including the anti-gang and anti-drug forces. If police “want money, guns, drugs”, or information on the flow of any of them onto Chicago’s streets, “they bring them there and use it as a place of interrogation off the books,” Hill said.
‘The real danger in allowing practices like Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,’ criminologist Tracy Siska told the Guardian. Photograph: Chandler West/Guardian
A former Chicago detective and current private investigator, Bill Dorsch, said he had not heard of the police abuses described by Church and lawyers for other suspects who had been taken to Homan Square. He has been permitted access to the facility to visit one of its main features, an evidence locker for the police department. (“I just showed my retirement star and passed through,” Dorsch said.)
Transferring detainees through police custody to deny them access to legal counsel, would be “a career-ender,” Dorsch said. “To move just for the purpose of hiding them, I can’t see that happening,” he told the Guardian.
Richard Brzeczek, Chicago’s police superintendent from 1980 to 1983, who also said he had no first-hand knowledge of abuses at Homan Square, said it was “never justified” to deny access to attorneys.
“Homan Square should be on the same list as every other facility where you can call central booking and say: ‘Can you tell me if this person is in custody and where,’” Brzeczek said.
“If you’re going to be doing this, then you have to include Homan Square on the list of facilities that prisoners are taken into and a record made. It can’t be an exempt facility.”
Indeed, Chicago police guidelines appear to ban the sorts of practices Church and the lawyers said occur at Homan Square.
A directive titled “Processing Persons Under Department Control” instructs that “investigation or interrogation of an arrestee will not delay the booking process,” and arrestees must be allowed “a reasonable number of telephone calls” to attorneys swiftly “after their arrival at the first place of custody.” Another directive, “Arrestee and In-Custody Communications,” says police supervisors must “allow visitation by attorneys.”
Attorney Scott Finger said that the Chicago police tightened the latter directive in 2012 after quiet complaints from lawyers about their lack of access to Homan Square. Without those changes, Church’s attorneys might not have gained entry at all. But that tightening – about a week before Church’s arrest – did not prevent Church’s prolonged detention without a lawyer, nor the later cases where lawyers were unable to enter.
The combination of holding clients for long periods, while concealing their whereabouts and denying access to a lawyer, struck legal experts as a throwback to the worst excesses of Chicago police abuse, with a post-9/11 feel to it.
On a smaller scale, Homan Square is “analogous to the CIA’s black sites,” said Andrea Lyon, a former Chicago public defender and current dean of Valparaiso University Law School. When she practiced law in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, she said, “police used the term ‘shadow site’” to refer to the quasi-disappearances now in place at Homan Square.
I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and hold somebody before booking for hours and hours
James Trainum, former detective, Washington DC
“Back when I first started working on torture cases and started representing criminal defendants in the early 1970s, my clients often told me they’d been taken from one police station to another before ending up at Area 2 where they were tortured,” said Taylor, the civil-rights lawyer most associated with pursuing the notoriously abusive Area 2 police commander Jon Burge. “And in that way the police prevent their family and lawyers from seeing them until they could coerce, through torture or other means, confessions from them.”
Police often have off-site facilities to have private conversations with their informants. But a retired Washington DC homicide detective, James Trainum, could not think of another circumstance nationwide where police held people incommunicado for extended periods.
“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours. That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist,” said Trainum, who now studies national policing issues, to include interrogations, for the Innocence Project and the Constitution Project.
Regardless of departmental regulations, police frequently deny or elide access to lawyers even at regular police precincts, said Solowiej of First Defense Legal Aid. But she said the outright denial was exacerbated at Chicago’s secretive interrogation and holding facility: “It’s very, very rare for anyone to experience their constitutional rights in Chicago police custody, and even more so at Homan Square,” Solowiej said.
Church said that one of his more striking memories of Homan Square was the “big, big vehicles” police had inside the complex that “look like very large MRAPs that they use in the Middle East.”
Cook County, home of Chicago, has received some 1,700 pieces of military equipment from a much-criticized Pentagon program transferring military gear to local police. It includes a Humvee, according to a local ABC News report.
Tracy Siska, a criminologist and civil-rights activist with the Chicago Justice Project, said that Homan Square, as well as the unrelated case of ex-Guantánamo interrogator and retired Chicago detective Richard Zuley, showed the lines blurring between domestic law enforcement and overseas military operations.
“The real danger in allowing practices like Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,” Siska said.
“They creep into domestic law enforcement, either with weaponry like with the militarization of police, or interrogation practices. That’s how we ended up with a black site in Chicago.”
The Chicago police used appalling military interrogation tactics for decades
Tracy Siska/The Guardian
From Russian roulette to electric shocks to genitalia, abuse associated with black sites has happened in the heart of America
The culture of interrogations at Guantánamo didn't develop in a vacuum. Similar techniques have been used against African Americans for far too long. Photograph: Joaquin Palting/CORBIS
Tracy Siska is the Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project.
department has promised for more than a century to eliminate torture from its interrogation rooms. For more than a century, the Chicago police department has failed to deliver on that promise.
The latest shameful episode is the tale of Richard Zuley, a police officer who brought the tactics he learned in Chicago to Guantánamo Bay and back again, as reported by The Guardian.
Sadly, there is a precedent for Zuley.
For example, in a 2000 case that resulted in a successful federal civil rights lawsuit, a Latino teenager was held for four days chained to a wall in an interrogation room, where he was not only questioned repeatedly, but denied bathroom access and left to soil himself. During the boy’s civil rights trial, officers could only prove that they fed him once during the four days. The teen eventually confessed to a murder he did not commit. After he spent just a few weeks in jail, another suspect was arrested with the murder weapon and confessed shortly after his arrest. How many others locked up have not been so fortunate?
Exclusive: At the notorious wartime prison, Richard Zuley oversaw a shocking military interrogation that has become a permanent stain on his country. Part one of a Guardian investigation reveals he used disturbingly similar tactics to extract confessions from minorities for years – as a police officer in urban America
Most infamously, there is highly decorated Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge who, during his 23-year tenure on the force from 1970 to 1993, used the techniques he learned from interrogating the Vietcong as a military policeman in Vietnam on black suspects in Chicago. These techniques included Russian roulette with pistols and shotguns, burning suspects on radiators, suffocation with typewriter covers, beatings with phone books and electric shocks to the ears, nose, fingers, and testicles.
Burge was a fast-rising and well-respected officer who operated with impunity; neither his colleagues nor his supervisors blew the whistle. Neither did prosecutors or officials in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Instead, Burge was accorded hero status – until community activists, public interest lawyers and one lonely journalist at the city’s weekly exposed his horrid behavior what it really was: unacceptable.
Once public pressure mounted – and only then – Burge was finally fired in 1993, accused of torturing confessions out of what is believed to be more than 100 African American men. He was not, however, without his defenders: at the time of his firing, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, the largest union representing officers, attempted to run a float honoring Burge in the Chicago’s St Patrick’s Day parade. And it wasn’t until 2006 that a special prosecutor was appointed to examine Burge’s record and determine if a criminal case could be brought against him. (Only a perjury charge stuck.)
The relationship between communities of color in Chicago and the Chicago Police Department hasn’t recovered from Burge’s abuses. Residents remain wary, while the police remain largely unapologetic. Today, the Chicago Police Department’s tactics – known as “touchless torture” – are less horrific but still abusive.
These new methods focus more on sensory deprivation and isolation to wear down a suspect – sometimes with the same result: false confessions. Because these methods do not leave marks, it is much harder for judges and juries to understand just how coercive they are.
A series of US supreme court cases over the last century have codified the rights that are supposed to protect suspects under our system. Sadly, those rights still mean next to nothing in Chicago interrogation rooms, which still bear too much resemblance to those in Guantánamo – and those from the now-distant past of Vietnam.
The way forward requires reform on a system’s level – not at an individual case level. The use of these types of tactics is not a bad apple issue, but rather about a rotten-to-the-core system that turns a blind eye to massive civil rights violations because the system benefits from those civil rights violations. About 90% of all criminal cases in America result in a plea bargain, which makes any given confession so much more powerful than it would normally be and thus that more desirable to obtain. Sadly prosecutors who have a constitutional obligation to be a check on coercive police practices fail in their obligations in America because there is an institutional incentive for them to ignore civil rights violations and push for plea bargains using the coerced confessions.
Any meaningful reform starts with educating juries about the coerciveness of the interrogation room and the tactics used to extract confessions; after that, judges must live up to their responsibilities and deny plea bargains in case in which the only evidence is a confession. While hardly a cure-all, these two massive reforms of legal procedure could help remove the institutional incentives for those working for the system to obtain and use coerced confessions.
Fairfax Co. police release more details in woman’s stun gun death
By Sarah Beth Hensley
WASHINGTON — Police have released new details surrounding the death of a 37-year-old Alexandria, Virginia, woman who died after deputies used a stun gun on her while she was in custody.
On Thursday, Fairfax County police released information from the ongoing investigation into the death of Natasha McKenna.
McKenna was in the process of being transported from the Fairfax County jail to the Alexandria city jail on Feb. 3 when deputies say she failed to comply with their commands and resisted them. Deputies used a stun gun to restrain her, and she later had a medical emergency that led to her death on Feb. 8.
In information police released Thursday, they said a Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team comprised of six deputies attempted to remove McKenna from her cell in the Fairfax County jail when she physically resisted the deputies and refused their commands.
During the struggle, a SERT member used a stun gun to restrain McKenna. Also, deputies placed a spit net on McKenna — a device designed to restrict and prevent spitting.
A nurse from the medical staff was present at the time and checked McKenna and cleared her for transport to Alexandria Detention Center, police said.
Deputies attempted to put McKenna in a medical transport chair, but she “continued to be combative,” Fairfax County police said. She was put in a restraint chair for transport to a vehicle transfer area, commonly known as a sally port.
While in the sally port, McKenna had a medical emergency. Deputies did CPR and used an automated external defibrillator while awaiting rescue personnel from the Fairfax City Fire Department.
An ambulance arrived and transported McKenna to the hospital where she was put on life support. She was taken off life support and died Feb. 8.
McKenna had been jailed since Jan. 26 on a charge of assault on a police officer.
Also, police addressed rumors that McKenna suffered an amputated finger during the incident.
“The investigation by detectives from the Fairfax County Police Department affirmed that McKenna had a pre-existing injury (missing the tip of her ring finger on her left hand), which was noted during the arrest booking on Monday, Jan. 26,” police said in a release.
Fairfax County police and the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office are working together on the investigation and say they will give more updates within the next 30 days or as soon as additional details become available.
Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.
Police: Restraints, including hood, used along with Taser on inmate who died in custody
By MATTHEW BARAKAT Associated Press
McLEAN, Virginia — An inmate who died in custody after a stun gun was used on her had also been in restraints that included a light hood, Fairfax County Police said Thursday.
The news release issued by police included new details and indicated Natasha McKenna, 37, of Alexandria, had previously assaulted a sheriff's deputy while incarcerated at the Fairfax County jail.
On Feb. 3, Fairfax County deputies used an emergency response team to move McKenna out of her cell ahead of her transfer to Alexandria. Police said McKenna resisted officers, who used a stun gun, a restraint chair and the hood, made of a mesh material that goes over the head with a fabric material over the nose and mouth designed to restrict and prevent spitting.
Sheriff's office procedures carefully outline instructions for use of the hood and require filing a report any time it is used. The guidelines call for continuous monitoring to ensure "the person's airway, nose and mouth are unobstructed at all times."
According to Thursday news release, the hood and restraints were removed after deputies saw she was in medical distress.
She died five days later, after being taken off life support.
McKenna was charged in Alexandria with assaulting a police officer. On Thursday, Fairfax police said McKenna had also assaulted a deputy at the Fairfax jail three days before the Feb. 3 stun gun incident.
According to police, McKenna was brought to the Fairfax jail on Jan. 26 when officers discovered her outstanding warrant for assaulting a police officer in Alexandria.
Police say they have video of the response team's efforts to remove McKenna from her cell, but they are treating the video as evidence and have no plans to release it at this time.
A lawyer for the McKenna family, Harvey Volzer, declined comment Thursday.
Va. inmate had been restrained, fitted with anti-spitting mask before death
By Justin Jouvenal February 19
The mentally ill inmate at the Fairfax County jail had previously assaulted a deputy, so when it came time to transfer Natasha McKenna to face a charge, the sheriff’s office sent in a six-person team outfitted in padded gear to remove her from her cell, police said.
McKenna, a 37-year-old Alexandria resident, refused commands and resisted the deputies on Feb. 3, touching off a struggle, police said in a statement released Thursday. The 130-pound woman was Tasered “several times” and an anti-spitting mask was placed over her face, police later said in an interview. After she was restrained, McKenna continued to resist the officers, so she was placed in a special chair that restricted her movements.
But after being cleared by a nurse for transport to Alexandria and being taken to an entryway, McKenna went into cardiac arrest and later died at a hospital.
Fairfax police released the account as part of an ongoing investigation into the incident. It is the most detailed description yet of the events that ended with McKenna’s death, but it does not say how many times she was Tasered and how she allegedly resisted deputies that morning.
“It takes six deputies to restrain a 5’3”, 37-year-old woman?” Harvey J. Volzer, an attorney for McKenna’s family, asked in an e-mail to The Washington Post. He said that McKenna had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 12.
“Where were persons trained to deal with prisoners with mental issues?” he asked.
The Fairfax sheriff’s office declined to answer further questions about the incident Thursday. In an e-mail, Capt. Tyler Corey said, “We are grateful for the diligence and professionalism displayed by the Police detectives as they work through their investigation.”
McKenna came to Fairfax’s attention Jan. 25 after police said she called 911, saying she had been assaulted. When a county police officer responded to the call, she gave him a report and agreed to go to a hospital for an examination. At the hospital, McKenna decided not to pursue the investigation, police said, and declined additional help from police.
Officers then discovered that McKenna had an outstanding warrant against her for assault on a law enforcement officer in Alexandria and took her into custody.
The charged stemmed from a Jan. 15 incident at a Hertz car rental agency, Alexandria police said. Employees reported that McKenna was being disruptive and acting strangely. Police arrived and McKenna was taken to local INOVA hospitals, where police obtained an involuntary detention order against her. She was eventually released. INOVA officials said patient confidentiality laws barred them from discussing why.
After learning about the incident in Alexandria, Fairfax police transported McKenna to the jail on Jan. 26. The Alexandria sheriff’s office said they notified Alexandria police three times that McKenna was ready to be transferred — the last on Feb. 2 — but that she was not picked up.
“We are still investigating why she wasn’t picked up,” said Crystal Nosal, an Alexandria police spokeswoman. Fairfax police said that McKenna assaulted a sheriff’s deputy at the jail Jan. 31.
By Feb. 2, staff at the jail had become alarmed at the deterioration in McKenna’s mental health, a person familiar with the case said.
Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said the case was particularly sad because it appeared that Alexandria police acted correctly in initially seeking treatment for McKenna before charging her. Nosal said that McKenna was charged because she had allegedly assaulted an officer.
Honberg added that many law enforcement agencies have instituted crisis intervention training for officers that focuses on defusing tensions during encounters with the mentally ill. Aggressive responses by authorities, he added, can exacerbate problems.
“Acting aggressively to someone who is already fearful and paranoid is pouring gasoline on the fire,” Honberg said.
Corey, of the Fairfax sheriff’s office, said 32 out of about 500 deputies had been through crisis intervention training and an additional 80 had received training specific to mental health issues at the county jail. All deputies receive 10 to 12 hours of basic mental health training at the academy.
Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. has promised a quick and thorough investigation and monthly updates to the public. No decision has been made about whether to file charges in McKenna’s case.
“I've been watching events around the country and locally,” Roessler said. “As a profession, we need to be more transparent.”
By Patrick Wilson
A Senate committee on Tuesday killed a bill that would prevent police from seizing assets in a criminal case unless a defendant were convicted or entered a plea agreement.
The measure (HB1287) passed the House of Delegates 92-6 earlier this month and passed the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-2 last week.
However, the Senate Finance Committee killed it Tuesday, and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, said it would be studied by the State Crime Commission.
"I'm very disappointed," said the bill's sponsor, Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, outside the hearing room. "I think that was just an excuse to kill the bill."
Police are allowed to keep property seized from suspects in drug investigations, sometimes even if a conviction is never obtained. From 2008 to 2013, Virginia law enforcement agencies seized more than $57 million through the state civil asset forfeiture process.
Some offenses that have been added to the law recently, such as human trafficking, require a conviction in order for police to seize property, Cole said.
His bill would make the law uniform by requiring a conviction for asset forfeiture in all criminal investigations. Defendants also would have a chance to exhaust appeals before their assets were seized.
"I think it's just fundamentally wrong for the government to be able to take someone's property who has not been convicted of a crime," Cole told the committee.
"Can you give us an example? I think I understand what you're saying," said committee chairman Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico County.
"Somebody could be accused of dealing drugs," Cole said. "Not even charged. But a civil proceeding could be brought against their assets without them having been convicted, and their assets could be taken."
Stosch and Norment voted to kill the bill, as did Sens. Kenny Alexander, D-Norfolk; Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach; Chuck Colgan, D-Prince William County; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County; Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax County; John Watkins, R-Powhatan County; and Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County.
Voting for the bill were Sens. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County; Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover County; Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier County; and Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg County.
Police and prosecutors opposed the bill, while several conservative and liberal groups backed it. A letter in support of the bill on Monday was signed by Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and two officials with the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm.
Fairfax prosecutor resumes probe in police killing of John Geer in 2013
By Tom Jackman
The Fairfax County prosecutor is resuming his investigation into the Fairfax police department’s shooting of John Geer in 2013, obtaining the documents that police refused to give him 15 months ago and preparing to make a decision on whether to charge the officer involved, the prosecutor said Saturday.
In his first public comments on the case since transferring it to federal prosecutors in January 2014, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh strongly criticized Fairfax County attorneys for what he characterized as obstructing the investigation into the Geer shooting.
“Protecting the county coffers” in anticipation of a civil lawsuit, Morrogh said, “can’t be a factor in a criminal investigation.”
County officials said Saturday that they did not have a protocol in place for handling requests from the prosecutor’s office for internal affairs files at the time Morrogh requested the documents and that a protocol has since been developed.
Morrogh also provided his first detailed explanation of why he sought the internal affairs files of Officer Adam D. Torres, who fatally shot Geer — who was unarmed — while the man stood in the doorway of his Springfield home on Aug. 29, 2013. Morrogh also discussed why he then transferred the case to federal prosecutors when Fairfax police refused to cooperate.
Letters released Friday night by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) showed that the Fairfax police provided Torres’s internal affairs files earlier Friday and that Morrogh had hired an outside prosecutor to screen the files to ensure that he did not receive any protected material. Morrogh said Saturday that he enlisted Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher, who obtained a murder indictment against a Culpeper County police officer in 2012, to review the files.
The Justice Department, which is considering whether to file civil rights charges against Torres, said in a letter Friday that it did not object to Morrogh “conducting a concurrent investigation.” The letter from Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik did not indicate when Justice might rule on Torres’s case, and Morrogh said he also did not know what the department’s timeline might be.
Morrogh said he planned to wait to see if federal prosecutors decide to charge Torres before acting. But “in the event they don’t charge him, I’m going to have to do something,” Morrogh said. “I’m going to have to be ready.”
Also Friday, Fairfax police turned over the Torres internal affairs files to the attorneys for Geer’s family, as ordered by a Fairfax judge in the family’s civil suit against Fairfax chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows required police to provide the internal files of both their ongoing Geer investigation and of a 2013 incident in which Torres had an angry exchange with a Fairfax prosecutor outside traffic court.
The Geer family’s attorneys declined to comment Saturday.
Bellows’s order opened the door for Morrogh to request the same files, information he had originally sought in November 2013 while trying to decide whether to charge Torres with a crime. Torres told investigators in September 2013 that he fired one shot into Geer’s chest after a 42-minute standoff because Geer quickly jerked his hands from above his head to his waist, police documents released last month show. Four other officers, plus Geer’s father and best friend, all said Geer’s hands were near his head when Torres suddenly fired, their statements show.
Presented with this information by Fairfax homicide detectives, Morrogh turned to the police internal affairs bureau for background on Torres.
“I wanted to know the history of this guy, with respect to what kind of evidence is out there,” Morrogh said. “We’ve been investigating police shootings the same way all the time. In so many, it’s necessary to know the background [of the officer], and they’ve given it to me. In this case, they did not.”
Morrogh said he met with Roessler and an internal affairs captain in November 2013 and was surprised to see three Fairfax County attorneys enter the meeting.
He said the county attorneys told him they would not provide Torres’s internal affairs files in any of his cases, in part because of the “Garrity” ruling that compelled statements given by officers cannot be used against them in criminal cases. Morrogh said he would take steps to ensure that didn’t happen, but he said the attorneys told him to subpoena the files.
Morrogh said he knew, though, that Virginia Supreme Court rules, attorney general opinions and case law all state that a grand jury may only subpoena documents from a person or agency who is “not a party to the action,” thereby excluding specific defendants or their government agency.
The prosecutor said the county attorneys told him if he subpoenaed Torres’s records, they would fight the subpoena, and Morrogh knew they likely would win. Morrogh said Roessler deferred to the county attorneys’ advice on the matter.
“It was unprecedented when this occurred and put a lot of obstruction in this investigation,” Morrogh said. “You’ve got a police department that’s investigating itself, and they’re fighting the prosecutor? How’s that going to look to the public?” He said he, and the police, were tasked with seeking justice in the case and that concern about a possible lawsuit “should be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind in a criminal investigation.”
Morrogh then found that federal subpoena rules were different, asked the U.S. attorney in Alexandria if he would take on the case, and in January 2014 shifted the case there.
Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien said Saturday that in 2013, “the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and the Police Department did not have a protocol in place for handling requests by the Commonwealth’s Attorney for an officer’s [internal affairs] files.” He said both sides recognized that internal affairs investigations “are legally protected,” that a police officer’s internal affairs statements cannot be used against him in a criminal case and that a protocol for prosecution requests has now been developed. But Morrogh said the police had previously provided such files without incident.
In Roessler’s letter to Grassley, the chief stated that he “had a general awareness soon after the Geer incident that Officers Torres and [Rodney] Barnes had different accounts of Mr. Geer’s actions.” But Roessler said that because he must rule on any internal discipline for Torres, he has not read the officers’ statements or other investigative materials, though the county has posted them on the Internet.
Grassley also asked Roessler how often he briefed the Board of Supervisors and what he told them. Roessler responded only that he first met with the board in September 2013, and again “in other sessions” in 2013 and 2014, but he declined to specify what information he provided them.
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
Fairfax County Creates Panel to Review Police Procedures
FAIRFAX, Va. — Fairfax County officials are creating a commission to review police department policies after an officer shot an unarmed man and investigative documents were kept secret for 17 months.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova announced the creation of the new commission Friday. The panel will include law enforcement personnel, citizens and scholars.
Bulova says the commission’s review is part of an effort by county supervisors to take a “hard look” at how police inform the public about major incidents. The commission will recommend changes to Fairfax policies to improve transparency around police-involved incidents.
The proposal for a commission comes after criticism of the slow pace of an investigation into the 2013 shooting of an unarmed man, John Greer, by an officer. Federal authorities are now handling that case.
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In Fairfax, Va., a different, no-less-scary police shooting
18 months ago John Geer was shot by police while standing at his front door with his hands raised
By Neil Macdonald, CBC News
Senior Washington Correspondent
Neil Macdonald is the senior Washington correspondent for CBC News, which he joined in 1988 following 12 years in newspapers. Before taking up this post in 2003, Macdonald reported from the Middle East for five years. He speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.
White privilege didn't protect John Geer.
That's not to say he didn't have it. As a middle-class kitchen designer living in the pleasant Washington suburb of Fairfax, Va., he had nothing whatsoever in common with the impoverished black men killed by police in Missouri and Brooklyn last year.
Those deaths triggered riots, marches and demonstrations across America, and interventions by the White House.
But Geer, pierced 18 months ago by a police bullet as he stood inside the screen door of his own home, his hands raised, begging not to be shot, simply disappeared into the emotional mixing bowl of American news and political priorities.
That should not have happened. The killing of John Geer is probably the clearest and most compelling example of what amounts to police impunity in recent American history.
He committed no crime the day he was killed. Even the officer who shot him acknowledges that. There was no struggle. The details are not murky.
But because no one was marching in the streets on behalf of John Geer, because he was absent from national headlines, the system was able to make his outrageous death go away by the simple expedient of doing nothing and refusing to discuss it.
Here are the facts:
In August 2013, Geer's common law wife, who was breaking up with him and moving out, called police to report he was angrily throwing her possessions onto his front lawn.
Asked whether Geer had weapons, the woman answered yes, but they were legally owned and secured. No, he hadn't been drinking.
John Geer, 46, was fatally shot by police in August 2013 in an unusual confrontation for which no charges have been laid. His family has launched a suit for wrongful death. (Jeff Stewart / Washington Post)
Two squad cars — four officers — initially responded. Geer, on seeing them, retreated into his home, refusing to answer questions.
A few minutes later, Officer Rodney Barnes, a trained police negotiator, arrived, and as the four other policemen stood close behind him with weapons drawn, he began trying to coax John Geer out onto the porch.
Barnes would later recall that Geer was polite, but reluctant to leave his home, saying repeatedly he was frightened of being killed.
He said "I don't want anybody to get hurt," the negotiator told investigators a few months later. "I don't want to get shot."
'I know I can get shot'
Barnes asked Geer if he owned a pistol. Geer said yes, and fetched it. He held it up, holstered, for Barnes to see and set it aside, raising his hands again. He offered to let Barnes come into the house and retrieve the weapon.
He asked for permission to scratch his nose, Barnes said, and did it slowly, then raised his hands again. He asked to reach into his pocket for his phone; Barnes asked him not to, and he obeyed.
"He said 'I know if I reach down or drop my hands I can get shot," Barnes told detectives later. "I said, hey, nobody's going to shoot you…"
But Geer pointed to one nearby officer in particular: Adam Torres, who kept raising his Sig Sauer pistol from the "ready" position (pointed at Geer's legs) to aim at Geer's chest.
Please ask him not to point his gun at me, Geer begged Barnes. Geer even offered to come out and be handcuffed voluntarily if Torres and the other patrolmen would agree to move "way back."
Then he asked to scratch his nose again. Barnes consented. And Torres fired.
Geer, grabbing his wound, screamed in pain and stepped back, slamming his door.
"And I'm like, who the fuck shot?" Barnes told detectives later. "I kinda got a little pissed."
Torres acknowledged it had been him, and began muttering how he was sorry, and that his wrist was hurting. Then, unbidden, he told Barnes how he'd had a fight over the phone with his wife just before arriving on the scene.
Everyone else is wrong
Asked by Barnes why he'd fired, Torres said Geer had dropped his hands to his waist suddenly, that he appeared to be going for a weapon.
"I said I didn't see that," said Barnes later. "You know, and I never took my eye off him (Geer)."
In this cellphone video, Fairfax County police stand outside John Geer's home after he had been shot by an officer and fell back into the house. The officer at left is said to be Rodney Barnes, the main negotiator. By the time police tactical forces arrived to enter the home, Geer had bled to death. (CBS)
The other three officers who'd been present told investigators the same thing. So did two civilian witnesses.
But prosecutors and police commanders and county officials buried the case.
Fairfax County's top prosecutor declared a conflict of interest and referred the shooting to federal authorities.
The police department stonewalled reporters.
Federal investigators did investigate, and have reported to the U.S. attorney in Virginia, who has done nothing.
And all this was done under a cloak of secrecy, until, earlier this month, a judge finally ordered disclosure of nearly 11,000 documents, containing interviews with nearly everyone involved.
Torres, it turns out, stuck to his story that the other four officers were wrong.
Does he regret having shot Geer? "I don't feel sorry for shooting the guy at all."
Why did he tell Barnes immediately afterward he was sorry? He was concerned about having upset Barnes by shooting, he said.
Why did he talk about his wrist hurting? He doesn't remember. Why did he immediately say he'd just had a fight with his wife? "I don't know why."
Under the radar
The judge's disclosure order has created a bizarre situation: Nearly all the available evidence, including audio of the witness statements, is now available on the Fairfax County website.
According to those official documents, the shooter — a cop with significant anger issues (he once screamed and cursed at prosecutors in open court) — is contradicted by four fellow officers and two civilian witnesses. That sort of rank-breaking is practically unheard of.
And yet there has been no judicial action, and almost no public uproar. Most politicians have remained silent. Those who have marched against police shootings in the past have been largely uninterested.
A protest at Fairfax police headquarters drew a couple of dozen people. Only the Washington Post has taken a serious interest in the case.
But the killing of John Geer should frighten everyone. It is the best example yet that while police often target minorities disproportionately, their basic and overriding demand is total and unquestioning submission to their authority.
Resist, however peacefully and even in your own home, and heaven help you, no matter what your skin colour.