Fairfax officials seek policy changes amid backlash over Geer shooting
By Antonio Olivo
Fairfax County officials Friday were preparing to seek bids from private consultants who can recommend changes in how information is handled in police-involved shootings, the result of a backlash over the county’s long delay in sharing details behind the John B. Geer shooting.
County officials will also seek community input on such cases, said Sharon Bulova, the chair of the board of supervisors. The process, she said, will likely provoke “hard questions” over the public’s right to know about fatal police shootings while protecting those officers’ legal rights.
“I don’t know what the change would be, I just know there must be places where we can find some examples of changes we want to make,” said Bulova (D), who consulted with Virginia state attorney Mark R. Herring (D) over the case on Thursday.
County officials have been in a period of self-reflection over the 2013 Geer shooting, where police Officer Adam D. Torres shot an unarmed Geer once in the chest, killing him, during a confrontation that began as a domestic dispute call outside Geer’s home in Springfield.
Last week, after refusing to share details of the shooting for 17 months, the county posted 11,000 pages of a police investigation on its Web site — some of which contradicted Torres’s assertion that Geer had been reaching for a gun.
The U.S. Justice Department has been reviewing the case for more than a year after Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh (D) decided his office couldn’t effectively investigate the case when Fairfax police refused to turn over some details of the shooting. Federal prosecutors have yet to decide on whether to file criminal charges against Torres.
Attorneys for Geer’s family — which is suing Fairfax police and Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. for wrongful death in Fairfax circuit court — are seeking Torres’s internal-affairs files.
Fairfax Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said the board should have known earlier about the stalemate with Morrogh’s office, which might have avoided the long delay in sharing details.
The board wasn’t aware the case would be referred to federal prosecutors until after the fact, McKay said, though he characterized that outcome as part of routine procedures in dealing with legal matters.
But, by then, it was locked into a decision against sharing the case’s details out of worry over jeopardizing the federal criminal investigation, McKay said.
“We were never given a very clear indication of what our options are when there is that kind of disagreement with the commonwealth attorney,” McKay said.
“On a case where someone was shot and killed, I think you’d want to get the pulse of the board before the commonwealth attorney kicked [the case] somewhere else,” McKay said. “We were never given a clear indication of what our options were.”
Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.