Editorial: Police transparency needed in officer-involved shootings
BROUGHT TO YOU BY:
John Foust. Because even moral cowards need a job
“When the cops murdered unarmed citizens, secretly recorded public officials and held the people of this county in contempt, I said and did nothing. I was silent in the face of injustice. And now I expect you idiots to reelect me”
About Supervisor John W. Foust
John was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. In all that time he has never, not once, spoken out against the brutality, corruption, excessive power or bloated budget of the Fairfax County Police.
However he did find time to run for reelection several times and run a losing bid for congress.
Since joining the Board of Supervisors, John has sought to provide effective, results-oriented, common sense leadership for the residents of the Dranesville District and Fairfax County…..in as long as providing effective, results-oriented, common sense leadership doesn’t involve speaking out against the cops.
BY THE FREE LANCE-STAR EDITORIAL
King George County Sheriff Steve Dempsey had never had to deal with a deputy fatally shooting someone in the 36 years he’s been with that department.
That changed Saturday evening when a deputy shot and killed a 64-year-old man who was coming at him with a knife, Dempsey said.
Police-involved shootings have been in the news in the past year, and often that news has reflected poorly on the law enforcement profession. Too often, police agencies provide scant information about the circumstances of the shootings and refuse to respond to questions about the incidents.
As a result, the public is left in the dark about what occurred, and silence invariably breeds suspicion and speculation.
Dempsey, sheriff since early 2011, didn’t follow that path. Instead, he provided details about what led up to the shooting and the step-by-step confrontation between the deputy and the man he shot in his home following a standoff with police. Dempsey even provided background about how many 911 calls his office had previously received involving that man, including details of earlier dealings that deputy had with 64-year-old Kenneth Henry Morgan.
And most important for credibility is the decision Dempsey made to immediately call in the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the shooting.
The state police has a team of agents trained for such investigations in each of its seven divisions. They’ve investigated 11 officer-involved shootings so far this year.
Whether it’s fair or not, there is a natural skepticism, especially for a small department, about objectivity when officers investigate their fellow officers.
Contrast Dempsey’s response to several fatal shootings by officers of the Fairfax County Police Department. The August 2013 incident involving John Geer, an unarmed Springfield man who was shot to death by a Fairfax officer as he stood in the doorway of his residence.
After a press release was provided shortly after the shooting, Fairfax police went 16 months without providing any additional information. Even Fairfax’s chief prosecutor was unable to get the details he needed to make a decision about the case.
Geer’s family eventually filed a civil lawsuit and a Circuit Court judge ordered files in the case turned over to them. The officer who did the shooting is no longer with the department and has been charged with murder.
That isn’t the first time Fairfax has stonewalled information about officer-involved shootings. In 2009, a Fairfax police officer shot and killed a Fredericksburg man during a traffic stop because he was suspected of stealing a plant from in front of a business.
David A. Masters, a former Green Beret, was unarmed and in his car when he was shot. Reports said the officer who pulled the trigger thought Masters was in a stolen car and was reaching for a gun, neither of which was true. No charges were filed but the officer was fired about 18 months after the shooting. In May, nearly five years later, Fairfax released the dashboard camera video of the shooting.
Earlier this year, a police review commission was appointed to study Fairfax police procedures and its communication policy.
The report from a communications subcommittee calls for a culture change to favor releasing more information, adopting a predisposition to disclose, with records presumed to be public and exemptions strictly and narrowly construed. That approach essentially mirrors state law, which states:
“The affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy since at all times the public is to be the beneficiary of any action taken at any level of government.”
It’s not too much to ask that the state law be followed. The King George Sheriff’s Office has done its part so far in the case of Saturday’s shooting.