Fairfax grand jury investigating John Geer police shooting hears testimony
By Tom Jackman July 27
A special grand jury, rarely empaneled in Fairfax County, began hearing testimony Monday in the 2013 killing of an unarmed Springfield man by a Fairfax police officer, hearing first from a Fairfax homicide detective and then from the longtime partner of the victim, John B. Geer.
The jury is expected to meet at least through the end of this week and then again in mid-August, Michael Lieberman, a lawyer for Geer’s family, said prosecutors told him. The jury may hear from at least 20 witnesses subpoenaed by Fairfax commonwealth’s attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, and jurors could then request additional witnesses or evidence, Morrogh has said.
Geer, 46, was shot dead in the doorway of his home on Aug. 29, 2013. Fairfax police said in January that the shooter was Officer Adam D. Torres, 32, who is on paid administrative leave from his patrol duties but has not otherwise been disciplined by the police and has not been charged. It is not known whether Torres will seek to testify before the grand jury.
Lieberman said the prosecution’s presentation began with Detective John Farrell, the lead homicide detective, outlining the case for the grand jury in the morning. Then Geer’s partner, Maura Harrington, took her turn, with nearly all of her time in the courtroom spent listening to a 75-minute secretly taped interview she gave to Farrell moments after learning that Geer was dead, Lieberman said in an interview.
On the day Geer was killed, Harrington had informed him that she had signed an apartment lease and was moving out. She said Geer called her to say that he was tossing her belongings out of their townhouse, and after one of their teenage daughters also called her, she drove home from work. Soon after her arrival, she called 911 to seek police help.
Fairfax County Police Officers Rodney Barnes, left, and Adam D. Torres outside the townhouse of John B. Geer on Aug. 29, 2013. Torres fired one shot and killed Geer while Barnes was negotiating with him. (Courtesy of Maura Harrington)
Instead, a standoff ensued, with Geer standing behind his screen door. Torres told detectives that Geer had showed him a holstered gun. While Officer Rodney Barnes spoke calmly with Geer, Torres fired one shot into Geer’s chest after about 40 minutes, police records show.
[From January: John B. Geer had his hands up when shot by police, four officers say in documents]
Harrington was in a nearby townhouse with her two daughters and snapped several photos of Torres aiming at Geer. She did not see Torres fire but heard the shot and said the officers “looked surprised. They ran towards cover.”
After Geer was found dead, Farrell interviewed Harrington in his car. It wasn’t until April 2014, when the Justice Department took up the case and presented her with a transcript of the conversation, that she learned she had been recorded.
The entire tape was played for the special grand jury, Harrington said, and the jurors asked only two questions: When did she get the call from Geer that led to her coming home, and how long did it take to get home? She said a prosecutor asked a couple of questions about her photos, and she was done testifying.
Geer can be seen here standing in the doorway with his hands on the frame of his screen door, shortly before he was shot. (Courtesy of Maura Harrington)
“I don’t know what to think,” Harrington said after her testimony. “If I was in there [on the jury], I would’ve asked a whole lot of questions. I would want to get it right.”
Lieberman said Harrington’s testimony was “relatively unimportant” because she could not see Geer or hear the dialogue between him and the officers in the 42-minute period between when Torres arrived and when the shooting occurred.
“The prosecutors have an enormous amount of power as to how they present this to a jury,” Lieberman said. “In the end, it’s going to come down to how it’s presented.”
A special grand jury is different than others in that jurors focus only on one case, where regular grand juries hear many cases. The special grand jury for the Geer case consists of nine Fairfax residents, Lieberman said, selected last month by Chief Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. White without the participation of prosecution or defense lawyers, as Virginia law requires. When testimony and evidence presentations are concluded, Morrogh will present one or more possible indictments. A simple majority of the special grand jury, but no less than five members, must vote to return a “true bill” of indictment for charges to be brought, or they can issue “no true bill,” in which no charges are filed and the case ends.
Morrogh said in April that he wanted a grand jury process, rather than just making a charging decision himself, because “I want to put witnesses under oath and get their testimony, and I want that done in front of citizens, and have citizens ask their own questions.”
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.