Grand jury investigating John Geer police shooting hears officers’ testimony
By Tom Jackman
The 2013 Fairfax County police killing of an unarmed Springfield man heard from at least 16 witnesses in its first week of work, and will return for more testimony and evidence on Aug. 17, Fairfax prosecutors said Friday.
The nine-person grand jury will decide whether to indict Officer Adam D. Torres, 32, for the fatal shooting of John B. Geer, 46, who was standing in the doorway of his Springfield home when Torres shot him once in the chest from a distance of about 17 feet. Torres did not testify during the first five days of the grand jury’s meeting, and his lawyer has declined to comment on whether Torres will volunteer to testify. Torres, who has not been disciplined by the police and is on paid administrative leave, has not spoken publicly about the incident. Fairfax County has already agreed to pay Geer’s teenaged daughters $2.95 million to settle their civil suit.
After hearing from the lead investigator in the case, homicide Det. John Farrell, the grand jury heard about 90 minutes of testimony from Geer’s partner of 24 years, Maura Harrington. Harrington said she listened to the 75-minute taped statement she gave to Farrell immediately after being informed Geer was dead on Aug. 29, 2013, and was only asked a couple of questions by the grand jurors.
The next day, the jury heard from Jeff Stewart, Geer’s best friend, and Don Geer, Geer’s father, who were both watching from about 70 yards away when Torres fired the shot. Stewart listened to his own taped statement from that day and said the jurors were engaged and asked him about 10 questions, mostly about where Geer’s hands were when the shot was fired. Torres told police that Geer had quickly jerked his hands to his waist, and having previously shown Torres a holstered gun, Torres feared Geer might have another gun.
Stewart said he told the jurors that “John was very calm. From what I understand, he said, ‘I don’t want to get shot. I don’t want to die today.'” [Those are remarks from Geer reported by other officers nearby.] He said he told the jurors that Geer could be volatile, “but never physical.” Stewart said his taped statement showed he was angry at Geer, and critical of him, and “I’m ashamed of what I said about my friend, but it really has no relevance to the 30 minutes I’m talking about” when Geer was refusing to come out of his house. Stewart maintained that Geer’s hands were slowly moving from the top of the screen door to near his shoulders when Torres fired.
Don Geer testified for about 30 minutes. “I got no impression whatsoever” from the grand jurors, he said. “None of them asked me any questions at all.” He said prosecutors asked him to elaborate on the position of his son’s hands, which Don Geer also placed at about head height. Lydia Gifford, a Geer neighbor and longtime friend, also testified briefly, but she did not see the shooting.
Next came the officers involved, other than Torres. Officer David Neil was dispatched to the domestic disturbance call along with Torres. In his original statement to police, he said that Geer held up something dark, but he could not see what it was. Both Torres and Neil told investigators that Geer had told them, “I have a gun; I will use it if I need to because you guys have guns.”
After several minutes on the scene, Neil was assigned to interview Harrington and report back on Geer and his situation, which he did. Neil testified for more than two hours. He, and all other police officers who testified, declined to discuss their testimony afterward. Virginia law does not prohibit special grand jury witnesses from discussing their testimony, but prosecutors and grand jurors are prohibited from talking.
After Neil came Officer Rodney Barnes. Barnes, a former Navy seaman and trained negotiator, showed up at Geer’s house shortly after Torres and Neil, reports show, and began speaking calmly with Geer while Torres kept his gun trained on Geer’s chest. After about 40 minutes, Geer was shot while still in conversation with Barnes.
Barnes was first interviewed by Det. Chris Flanagan five hours later, reports show. “When the shot happened, his hands were up,” Barnes told Flanagan. “I’m not here to throw [Torres] under the bus or anything like that, but I didn’t see what he saw.” Flanagan later wrote, “Officer Barnes stated that he was upset because he didn’t understand why Mr. Geer was shot.”
When Barnes emerged from listening to his statement on Tuesday evening, his eyes were red and he had a tissue in his hand, as if reliving the moment was again upsetting. He continued testifying on Wednesday.
The jury did not hear witnesses Wednesday afternoon. At some point, prosecutors may have played for them the two taped statements given by Torres in September 2013, in which he said Geer showed him a holstered gun and then immediately placed it on the floor. Torres told detectives that Geer “brought both his hands down really quick near his waist, and I pulled the trigger one time, and hit him under his right rib cage.” Torres, accompanied by his attorney John Carroll, also told the detectives, “I meant to pull that trigger…It’s not accidental…No, it was justified, I have no doubt about that at all, I don’t feel sorry for shooting the guy at all.”
On Thursday, the two other officers nearest to Barnes and Torres took the stand. Officer David Parker, interviewed by Farrell and Flanagan in September 2013, made a comment to them after his taped interview was over, according to Farrell’s report: “‘It’s not good. He killed that guy and he didn’t need to.’ Officer Parker went on to say that he didn’t understand why Officer Torres shot.” Parker was on the stand for about 90 minutes, as was Officer Benjamin Kushner, who told the detectives in 2013 that “he did not shoot Mr. Geer because he did not feel that the threat had risen to the level of having to shoot however he did not disagree with Officer Torres’s decision to shoot,” according to Farrell’s report.
Other officers who were on the scene at Pebble Brook Court that day, as well as an official from the Virginia medical examiner’s office, also testified.
On Friday, now-Capt. Ron Manzo, who was watching the Geer episode unfold from a short distance away, testified for less than an hour. He told investigators in 2013 that Geer’s hands were “at about his shoulder height” when Torres fired. Manzo was the fourth officer, in addition to Barnes, Parker and Kushner, to contradict Torres’s claim that Geer had brought his hands down to his waist in a threatening manner. An officer, a detective and a crime scene investigator also testified Friday before the grand jury finished.
Morrogh said he could not discuss who might be subpoenaed, either by prosecutors or the grand jurors, or when the grand jury might reach a decision on whether to charge Torres. He has said previously that he wanted to use a grand jury to lock in the witnesses’ statements under oath.
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.