The John Geer killing
Geer case has Fairfax supervisors taking another look at attorney
By Tom Jackman and Antonio Olivo February 27
Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors plan to order their longtime county attorney to answer for what they see as his missteps in the handling of the investigation into the 2013 police shooting of an unarmed man.
Several supervisors said they plan to take up the shooting death of John Geer at their next meeting on Tuesday. They said they may talk about the possibility of reprimands, and possibly even termination, for the county attorney or his top deputies.
“Everything is on the table,” Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said. “There has to be action, both swift and long-term. There have to be consequences for actions like this. There have to be consequences so people understand who is running this county. It’s not the people who were hired to work for the county. It’s the people who were elected.”
The supervisors said their legal advisers, led by longtime County Attorney David P. Bobzien, failed to keep them apprised of a dispute between police and county prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh in 2013 as he investigated the shooting, didn’t tell them the county was refusing to provide files to federal prosecutors in 2014, and didn’t tell them that Morrogh wanted to meet with the supervisors to discuss the advice Bobzien’s staff was giving police.
The supervisors said they learned of the developments from a series of e-mails from 2013 and 2014 that were published Friday in The Washington Post. In the e-mails, between Morrogh and deputy county attorneys Karen L. Gibbons and Cynthia Tianti, Morrogh expressed frustration with the county’s decision not to let him see internal affairs files and with what he said was the attorneys’ advice to police internal affairs investigators that they should not interview officers involved in brutality allegations.
The e-mails also show that Morrogh tried unsuccessfully to discuss his concerns with the board chairman, Sharon Bulova (D), and the other supervisors.
“It’s clear we can redraw the organizational chart” of Fairfax government, Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said Friday, “and put the county attorney at the top. They appear to be making decisions without consulting the board. This is another indication it’s time for change in the county attorney’s office.”
Also Friday, details began to emerge about what the supervisors were and weren’t told about the death of Geer by their attorneys and by Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. and what they have since learned from legal filings and news reports.
Morrogh’s e-mails said the county attorneys instructed the police internal affairs bureau not to interview officers involved in shootings because of the possibility that statements would conflict with ones given in future civil cases. In a statement issued Friday, county spokesman Tony Castrilli said that is not the case. “It is not correct to suggest that [internal affairs] was advised to avoid taking statements from officers,” the statement said.
Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) said it would be “highly inappropriate” to give such instructions to officers. “We’ll follow up and get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Foust said he and other board members have felt blindsided by learning new information about investigation of the Geer case through media reports and not Bobzien’s office.
Neither Bobzien nor Tianti, who is overseeing the Geer case, responded to a request for comment.
Although Bobzien, who has been with the county for 20 years, is generally well regarded, several board members said the Geer matter exposed a serious communication gap between his office and the county’s governing body. Bulova said she and other board members are taking steps to bridge that gap, including the creation of a commission to review police policies.
Bulova said “I don’t know” whether anyone in the county attorney’s office should be dismissed. But she and other board members said that if a meeting with Morrogh had occurred, they would likely have chosen to cooperate fully with his office.
Geer, 46, was fatally shot Aug. 29, 2013, as he stood in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse with his hands on top of the screen door, police witnesses said. The police waited 70 minutes to render aid to Geer, who had already shown them a holstered handgun, because they didn’t know whether he would try to fire back at them.
The supervisors received their first briefing on the case on Sept. 10, 2013, in a closed briefing from Roessler, board records show. Herrity said the chief told them there were differing accounts of where Geer’s hands were and that there was a delay in reaching Geer. The board did not receive any details about how many officers contradicted the version of events given by Officer Adam D. Torres, who shot Geer, or about Torres’s prior blowup at a Fairfax prosecutor, though that was well known to top police officials, police documents released last month show.
The board was briefed again in closed session on Nov. 19, 2013, records show. According to Herrity, members were informed that Morrogh was seeking the internal affairs files of Torres in other cases and that the county attorneys were refusing to provide them.
Morrogh’s e-mails show that the county attorneys and Roessler had already refused to turn over the files in a meeting five days earlier, on Nov. 14, 2013.
Herrity said the board is made up mainly of non-lawyers and that when county attorneys provide advice, “absent something compelling to dispute it, the board tends to follow it. But an attorney’s job is to give you the pros and cons and lay out options. Not to make decisions. The board should be the one making the decisions. That clearly didn’t happen.”
Rebuffed again by county attorneys in January, Morrogh sent the case to federal prosecutors in Alexandria. The supervisors learned of that development through the media, Herrity said.
The board received another briefing in April and another on Sept. 9, shortly after Geer’s longtime girlfriend sued Roessler. In the meantime, county attorneys again refused to produce Torres’s internal affairs files for federal prosecutors, the Justice Department revealed in a letter in November. That was the first time the supervisors learned that, Herrity said.
“The board was very upset,” Herrity said, “at the fact that they hadn’t turned the files over to the feds. We weren’t told any of that.”
Also in September, another police shooting occurred, and Morrogh said he wasn’t told of it for hours. Morrogh asked Virginia State Police to take over the new investigation, but they declined, county officials said.
Morrogh then sought a meeting with Bulova and the board to discuss the county attorney’s seemingly new policies on internal affairs files and interviews. But the prosecutor’s request was never passed on to Bulova or the supervisors, Bulova said, and the meeting didn’t happen.
“If a fellow elected official wants to meet with me, we’re meeting. It’s not even a debate,” McKay said.
With no decision made on whether to charge Torres, police had refused to release his name or any details of the case until January, when a Fairfax judge ordered them to do so in the civil suit. On Jan. 30, the county posted 11,000 documents, photos, audio and video files of the case online, which Herrity said was the first time the supervisors learned the details of the shooting.
Herrity said he was willing to listen to Bobzien and his staff defend their work. “I’m still trying to decide whether we got overprotective legal advice or just bad legal advice,” Herrity said.
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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.
Geer case emails show tension between Fairfax leaders
FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA9) -- An exchange of emails regarding the fatal police shooting of John Geer in 2013 shows tension between Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh and other county leaders.
Morrogh recenty received the internal affairs reports that the police department had previously refused to provide to him about the August 29th, 2014 shooting. He also sent the case to the Justice Department after he was unable to continue his own investigation. Letters from Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the judiciary committee, forced the latest release of the IA report to the commonwealth's attorney. Murrow has the files he needs now and he is evaluating the case again.
Morrogh handed all of the files over to Fauquier Commonwealth's Attorney to take out statements made by Officer Adam Torres, who shot Geer, because officers interviewed by Internal Affairs cannot have those statements used against them in court.
WUSA obtained a December to January email exchange between Morrogh and Senior Assistant County Attorney Karen Gibbons that shows the tension between officials regarding obtaining the files.
Read the emails below:
From: Morrogh, Ray F.
Sent: Wednesday, December 04, 2013 3:38 PM
To: Gibbons, Karen L.
Subject: Officer Involved Shooting of John R. Geer
Ms. Karen Gibbons,
Deputy County Attorney
I write at the suggestion of the Virginia State Bar to seek clarification with respect to the scope of the County Attorney's representation of the Chief of Police with respect to the investigation of the officer involved shooting of Mr. John R. Geer. Is the County Attorney's Office representing the Chief only with respect to the issue of turning over the internal affairs files to my office or does the County Attorney's Office purport to represent the Chief generally in regard to all aspects of the investigation of the subject police officer?
The purpose of this query is so that I may remain in compliance with the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically, Rule 4.2 concerning communication with persons represented by counsel. At this point I have been advised that I may not communicate with the Chief of Police any further with regard to the subject of the internal affairs files. Do you represent the Detectives who have been assigned to investigate this officer involved shooting and if so do you only represent them on the internal affairs file or do you purport to represent them generally with respect to all aspects of the investigation ?
When we met on November 14, 2013 it was the Chief's position, as stated by his counsel, that he would not turn over the Internal Affairs files to this office without a subpoena. You indicated as his counsel that your office would probably file a motion to quash any such subpoena if one were obtained by this office in the course of this investigation. Is this still the case? Again I formally request that your client turn over the Internal Affairs files to this office so that we may direct them to a "taint team" and fulfill our duty in this case. Thank you for your attention to this email.
Raymond F. Morrogh
From: Gibbons, Karen L.
Sent: Monday, January 06, 2014 1:43 PM
To: Morrogh, Ray F.
Subject: RE: Officer Involved Shooting of John R. Geer
The County Attorney represents all County agencies, including the Police Department and its Chief of Police, in regard to civil matters only. As the internal investigations are non-criminal in nature and conducted for the purpose of determining whether an officer's conduct, actions, or performance was in compliance with Police Department general orders or policies, the County Attorney represents the Police Department and Chief Roessler in regard to internal investigations. Because internal investigations are confidential under Virginia law, see e.g., Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3706(A)(2)(i), Chief Roessler will not voluntarily provide you with the prior internal affairs files regarding the officer who shot and killed Mr. Geer. As you know, because an officer is compelled to answer questions during an internal investigation, it has always been the practice of the Police Department that no internal investigation into this or any other officer-involved shooting will be conducted until the conclusion of the ongoing criminal investigation. This practice ensures that the criminal investigation is not tainted by any compelled statements made by the involved-officer(s) during the internal investigation.
In regard to the criminal investigation into this officer-involved shooting, the County Attorney does not regularly provide legal advice or counsel to the Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB) detective(s) who have been assigned to investigate the shooting because it is a criminal matter. It has always been my understanding that you lead the criminal investigation and provide whatever legal advice as necessary. The criminal investigation into the officer-involved shooting of Mr. Geer has always been, and continues to be, under your direction and legal advice. If this is not your understanding of our separate roles, please let me know.
Of course, it is the Police Department's intention to cooperate in your investigation to the extent provided by law. As you know, the Police Department's position regarding your request for any prior internal investigations of the officer involved in the shooting of Mr. Geer is based, at least in part, on the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's case of In re Grand Jury, John Doe No. G.J.2005-2 v. United States, 478 F.3d 581 (4th Cir. 2007). In that case, the Fourth Circuit found that a Police Department's interest in keeping its internal affairs investigations confidential was a significant one and upheld a district court's quashing of a grand jury subpoena duces tecum. I believe I provided you with a copy of that case at our meeting on November 14, 2013. It is simply the Police Department's position that if you require such prior internal investigations, you issue a subpoena for those files, at which point there will be a legal vehicle to put this matter before a judge who can then decide whether such files should be produced. Absent such a legal ruling, it is the Police Department's position that it does not have the right to turn over any such internal investigative files to you.
Karen L. Gibbons
Senior Assistant County Attorney
From: Morrogh, Ray F.
Sent: Thursday, January 16, 2014 1:12 PM
To: Gibbons, Karen L.
Cc: Lingan, Casey; McClain, Robert D.
Subject: RE: Officer Involved Shooting of John R. Geer
Thanks for the follow up on this issue. In light of the Police Department's position, and the concerns I expressed at our meeting, I have requested federal law enforcement assistance in this case.
Fairfax prosecutor asked state police to investigate Fairfax police shooting
By Tom Jackman
Fairfax County’s chief prosecutor called for the Virginia State Police to investigate a Fairfax police shooting outside a church in September because he had lost confidence in the county police department’s ability to cooperate fully with him, newly released e-mails show.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh took the extraordinary step of requesting an outside agency after he had been stonewalled by Fairfax police in the August 2013 police shooting of John B. Geer in Springfield, the e-mails indicate. Morrogh had sought the internal affairs records¬ of the officer involved in the Geer case, but Chief Edwin C. Roessler, on the advice of the county attorney, refused to turn over the files, the e-mails show.
Morrogh also was disturbed that the Fairfax county attorney had advised the police internal affairs bureau “to avoid taking statements from officers accused of employing excessive force,” to eliminate the possibility of an inconsistent statement being used “later in civil proceedings,” according to the e-mails, released by Morrogh.
The e-mails underscore the rare dissension and tension within the Fairfax County government that have been a part of the Geer case. Geer was unarmed and witnesses say had his hands up when he was killed by Officer Adam D. Torres. Fairfax officials had been silent for more than a year about what happened and did not release details until ordered to by a judge in a civil case filed by Geer’s family.
Morrogh turned the investigation into the shooting over to the U.S. Justice Department because of the county’s obstruction, he has said. The newly released e-mails show that the tension was sharper than previously known.
Morrogh tried to set up a meeting with County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) to let her know about the advice to the internal affairs bureau from County Attorney David P. Bobzien and his top deputies, Karen L. Gibbons and Cynthia L. Tianti. But Bulova never was informed of Morrogh’s request, and the meeting never happened, the chairman said.
Morrogh also expressed interest in speaking to the full County Board of Supervisors about the difficulties he was having investigating police cases¬, the e-mails show. But Tianti advised him that he could only do so at a public meeting, perhaps during the “Public Comments” portion of a board meeting, where he would be limited to five minutes.
Bulova said she has since “told Bobzien that the Board should have known of his request.”
Eventually, Morrogh said the police internal affairs commander, Maj. Michael Kline, refused to heed the county attorney’s advice, and the county attorney and police agreed to allow the prosecutor to review internal affairs files, starting with the September church shooting. The state police declined to get involved in the investigation, a county spokesman said.
Fairfax spokesman Tony Castrilli said in a statement that internal police investigations of excessive force “always include interviews of the subject officers,” but he declined to say whether county attorneys ever advised police to stop such interviews. He said Morrogh and the county attorneys met Sept. 15 and “developed a protocol for handling requests” for internal affairs files “that satisfied both sides’ legal obligations.”
But the county attorneys continued to resist turning over internal affairs files in the Geer case. An e-mail written by Gibbons in January 2014 explained the county’s reasoning: that “internal investigations are confidential” under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
The state law allows law enforcement agencies to withhold “administrative investigations relating to allegations of wrongdoing by employees of a law-enforcement agency.” But it also states that such records “may be disclosed by the custodian, in his discretion.”
Gibbons wrote: “Chief Roessler will not voluntarily provide you with the internal affairs files regarding the officer who shot and killed Mr. Geer.”
At the time, Morrogh was seeking records on other internal affairs cases¬ involving Torres, not on the Geer case, to get a full picture of the officer and his background. “It wouldn’t be fair to the officer,” Morrogh said in a brief interview, “to the decedent, or be true to my investigation to not look at all the evidence before making a decision” on filing charges¬.
After receiving Gibbons’s e-mail in January 2014 and believing that even a state grand jury subpoena could not extract the internal files from the police, Morrogh turned the case over to the U.S. attorney in Alexandria. Federal prosecutors apparently obtained the files, but no decision has been made on whether Torres should be charged with a civil rights violation.
Earlier this month, a Fairfax judge ordered the internal affairs files be provided to the attorneys for Geer’s family, who sued Roessler in September. The files were then given to Morrogh last week, and he said prosecutors were screening them.
Morrogh said in an e-mail to Tianti that he had received internal affairs files before the Geer case, but in light of the new policy denying them, he had summoned the state police to the church shooting. “My concern is that this office can’t investigate a case fully and fairly where the police, or the county attorney, decide what information they will turn over to the prosecution,” Morrogh wrote.
The county attorney’s office did not tell Bulova or the supervisors of Morrogh’s interest in speaking to them. “It’s completely unacceptable,” said Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield).
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors calling for outside input on improving information disclosure policies.
By Tim Peterson
When Alexandria resident Natasha McKenna was removed from life support and died on Feb. 8, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office posted a release on the county website. It was an update to an earlier post on Feb. 5 that explained McKenna was an inmate at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center who experienced a “medical emergency” on Feb. 3.
McKenna was scheduled to be moved to the Alexandria Adult Detention Center that day. When she fought against deputies transporting her, they used tasers to restrain her. At that point, the Fairfax County Police Department was notified and an investigation of McKenna’s “in-custody inmate death” began.
February 19, the Police Department released another update, an 800-word description of the events leading up to McKenna’s arrest and death. She had called Fairfax County police herself on Jan. 25 to report being assaulted. Officers accompanied her to a hospital and through a record check discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for assaulting an Alexandria police officer back on Jan. 15.
Though the officers involved have yet to be named, the content and amount of information released in under two weeks since McKenna’s death is comparable to that which it took the county over a year to release following the officer killing of Springfield resident John Geer.
According to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bulova, that was indicative of the board’s commitment to “making a stronger effort than before to make sure that we’re putting out as much info as possible.”
Amid Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, writing letters to the county as to why Geer’s investigation has taken so long and how it’s been handled, as well as public pressure from organizations such as the Justice for John Geer Facebook group and Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Bulova previously announced the board would seek outside expertise to examine its policies for releasing information on police action.
AT THE FEB. 17 MEETING of the board, supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) introduced a draft policy for transparency that had been making its way to the Fairfax City Council.
“You don’t have to look far to find a good policy on transparency,” said Herrity. “If this had been enforced, we wouldn’t have had a lof of the problems with the Geer case”.
That Fairfax proposal mandated a release of basic facts, any conflicting information and confirmed identities of individuals involved with the incident -- all within 72 hours of the incident itself.
“There were some good recommendations,” Bulova said, “but I’m not sure that is the only thing that we want to consider. We’re prepared to take a look at a number of models and best practices, to include the one the city of Fairfax is considering.”
#February 20, Bulova took another step and announced the creation of a new commission, made up of citizens, members of the legal community and other organizations such as the NAACP, to review police policies.
#“This gives the community an opportunity to take part in our review,” said Bulova.
#In her release, the Chairman named Michael Hershman, founder of the Fairfax Group and a citizen appointee to the Board of Supervisors Audit Committee, chair of this commission. She plans to bring it before the Board in its March 3 meeting for endorsement. At that time, Bulova has said she will also announce the rest of the commission’s membership.
#Though the commission is a step, Herrity remains critical of the Board’s lack of open discussion on the Geer case and others involving excessive and or lethal force by police officers.
#“The most disturbing thing to me is we haven’t had a Public Safety Committee meeting in well over a year,” he said. “I don’t know why not, there’s not a good answer. And too much of the board’s discussion has been in closed session. We need to get out into open session and have a dialog on our policies and practices and get them fixed.”
#BULOVA’S COMMISSION will have the opportunity to review both the county’s search for “independent expertise” on releasing information on officer-involved incidents and the Police Department’s policies and training regarding use of force.
Fairfax prosecutors ready to pick up Geer case again
FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA9) -- After a year and half, the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney is once again evaluating the fatal police shooting of John Geer, a man who was standing unarmed, with his hands up.
It happened on August 29th, 2013. Now, County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh has finally received the internal affairs reports that the police department had previously refused to provide.
RELATED:Family reacts to release of materials on Geer case
Morrogh sent the case to the Justice Department after he was unable to continue his own investigation. Now that he has all the files he needs, Morrogh is evaluating the Geer case once again.
"If this particular incident does not warrant the convening of a grand jury.... then no case in Fairfax County ever will," said Jeff Stewart, a witness the fatal shooting of his friend.
Stewart blames county supervisors for not stepping in to force the police department to cooperate with the Commonwealth's Attorney.
Morrogh told the Washington Post Saturday, that "protecting the county coffers" in anticipation of a civil lawsuit, "can't be a factor in a criminal investigation." But Morrogh declined to say that was the problem. "I don't know why they didn't want the documents released," said Morrogh.
"We were not aware," County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova answered when asked if they knew Morrogh could not get documents he needed from the police department.
"I would be extremely disappointed if I were to find there was an interference because we were trying to prevent the county from having to respond to a lawsuit," Bulova stated.
It took letters from Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the judiciary committee, to force the latest release of the IA report to the commonwealth's attorney.
Though the Internal Affairs report has been made available to Ray Morrogh, he's handed all of the files over to Fauquier Commonwealth's Attorney to take out statements made by Officer Adam Torres. When officers are interviewed by Internal Affairs, their statements cannot be used against them court.
Sharon Bulova will request that Supervisors create a new commission to review police department policies in order to ensure better transparency and communication in the event of another major incident.
Fairfax County Board to announce new commission to review police practices after John Geer fatal shooting
By The Associated Press, Jeannette Reyes
March 3, 2015 - 06:33
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP/WJLA) - Nearly two years after a police officer shot an unarmed man outside of his home, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will introduce Tuesday a new commission to review police practices.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova initially announced the creation of the new commission in February. The 25-member panel will include law enforcement personnel, citizens from local neighborhoods and scholars.
The police review comes after the county was criticized for withholding investigative documents for 17 months related to the 2013 shooting of an unarmed man, John Greer, by a police officer.
Bulova says the commission was created to maintain public trust and is part of an effort by county officials 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.
Time to Get Serious About Police Reform and Oversight
The View From Over Here, a Letter to the Editor, submitted by Patch reader John Lovaas
By Mary Ann Barton (Patch Staff) March 2, 2015 at 3:21pm
Finally the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has taken the first step toward reining in the Fairfax County Police Department, a heavily armed force which in matters of life and death has been accountable to no one but themselves. In the 75 years since the Board created its Police Department, not one officer has been charged with wrongdoing in killing an unarmed civilian.
But, there have been many killings of unarmed civilians, including ones under questionable circumstances—a half dozen of the latter in the last 10 years alone. (To see a rare, and creative, report on such a killing, google “Killing of Salvatore Culosi—Report to the Community by [then] Police Chief David Rohrer”.)
But, it has taken the public uproar over the shooting death of unarmed John Geer by an officer in front of several witnesses (including civilians this time) and seventeen months of FCPD stonewalling the public, the Commonwealth Attorney, and the Department of Justice to sufficiently embarrass Chairman Sharon Bulova and nine District Supervisors into their first tentative action.
Before you conclude that Mr. Geer did not die in vain, however, we should watch closely and verify that the historically non-supervising Supervisors in fact effect genuine reform, ending the impunity FC Police have so long enjoyed. Thus far, the Board’s action consists only of an announcement of INTENT to form an Ad Hoc Commission to study FCPD operations as manifest in the Geer case.
Chairman Bulova and the Supervisors have yet to reveal the scope of work for the consultant charged with forming and, presumably, heading the Ad Hoc Commission.
After all, it is this body that ultimately will recommend the measures needed to bring transparency and accountability to the FCPD. It would help if Chairman Bulova introduced her consultant to the community, revealed the content of his contract and the Board’s charge to the Commission, and revealed how its members are selected and indeed who they are.
The Supervisors need to understand that their dereliction of police oversight duty has eroded public confidence to the point where it rivals that accorded to the U.S. Congress. The Ad Hoc Commission is potentially key to restoring some of the lost trust.
The Commission should shape not only critically needed reform of the FCPD, but also the civilian oversight function of the Board itself, and indeed the community, which in the future must have an independent oversight role investigating complaints involving police use of force, especially lethal force.
Let’s see if the Supervisors are up to the job, notably in an election year when they often look to the cops for union endorsements, campaign cash, and campaign labor
Stonewalling in Fairfax County, again
By Editorial Board March 1
IT’S BEEN a month since an elite, specially trained team of sheriff’s deputies went to extract Natasha McKenna from her cell at the Fairfax County jail and, when she resisted, shot her repeatedly with a stun gun. Taken to the hospital, Ms. McKenna, 37, who was mentally ill, died a few days later without regaining consciousness.
There are a number of extraordinary aspects to Ms. McKenna’s death, not least that the incident at the jail was recorded. The 45-minute video spans the attempt to remove her from her cell to her departure from the jail in an ambulance.
Two weeks after Ms. McKenna’s death, Sharon Bulova (D), who chairs Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, asked to see the video. She directed her request to Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, whose department runs the jail, and Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., whose department is investigating Ms. McKenna’s death. So far the request by the county’s top elected official has not been honored, nor has it been denied.
At the same time, neither the sheriff’s office nor the police have released relevant information to the public about Ms. McKenna’s death. For example, a spokesperson for the police department told us in an e-mail that the department cannot say when or if the six deputies involved in the incident at the jail will be identified.
Many law enforcement agencies resort reflexively to stonewalling. The Fairfax police have become notorious for it, having spent 18 months refusing to release information on the 2013 death of John Geer, an unarmed man shot to death by a county police officer in front of fellow officers who saw no reason to pull the trigger. Now it appears the police are at it again.
It may be many weeks before the medical examiner’s office makes public the official cause of Ms. McKenna’s death. In the meantime, it seems highly probable that the incident at the jail, specifically the repeated use of the stun gun to subdue her, played a major part.
Yet there is no sign so far that the sheriff’s office is reexamining its policies or procedures for removing inmates from their cells or even for the use of stun guns. Nor have the deputies involved been put on probation while Ms. McKenna’s death is investigated. If this is the result of an interaction with a female prisoner who was, by her lawyer’s account, just 5 feet 3 inches tall, why should anyone be confident that sheriff’s deputies are competent to extract a bigger and more physically powerful inmate from a cell?
When unarmed people die at the hands of uniformed officers, the public deserves an accounting. That accounting is still lacking in the death of Mr. Geer, and it is now lacking in the case of Ms. McKenna. In both cases, top officials of the relevant law enforcement agencies have promised openness and transparency. In both cases their deeds have contradicted their words