The City of Chicago paid $54.2 million in settlements and verdicts for police misconduct cases last year, including more than $9.5 million in attorneys’ fees, according to an analysis of city law department data by The Chicago Reporter.
That’s more than the budget for the offices of the mayor, the city treasurer, the city council, the council committees and the department of human resources – combined.
Police misconduct complaints include those alleging excessive force, extended detention, false arrest, failure to provide medical care, illegal search or seizure, malicious prosecution and wrongful conviction.
Cop Who Pointed Gun At Motorist In Violent Road Rage Incident Arrested
A former police officer who reportedly put a gun to the head of another driver during an extreme case of road rage has been arrested.
Jacob Emory Swigger, formerly of the Signal Hill Police Department, was arrested on Friday for a road rage incident that took place on November 20. Prosecutors with the Orange County District Attorney's office say it was triggered when another man cut Swigger off on the northbound 5 freeway in Irvine during the morning commute. Swigger followed the other driver for about a mile before swerving in front of him, forcing him to stop. That's when the former officer is said to have pulled the man out of his car, put a gun to his head, and "repeatedly" slammed him into his own car, according to the O.C. Register.
Several passing commuters called 911 to report the incident, which took place in the middle of the freeway.
Swigger was a member of the Signal Hill police force at the time and was driving to work from his home in Lake Forest, but was not in uniform or driving a police vehicle. However, prosecutors say he identified himself as an officer during the confrontation and is being charged with excessive force by a police officer along with assault with a firearm. "I am... saddened by the fact that someone who had previously subscribed to a life of public service has been charged with a crime," Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston said in a statement.
These well-meaning changes will simply reproduce racial inequality.
Alex S. Vitale
March 6, 2015
President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has released a long list of reforms to American policing, some of which, including independent police prosecutions and dramatically scaling back the role of police in schools, are true advancements. However, there are also major pitfalls in the report’s reliance on procedural rather than substantive justice.
Liberal police reforms of the 1960s, including the Katzenback Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and Johnson’s Safe Streets Act, were intended to achieve similar ends of improving police community relations and reducing police brutality through police professionalization and a host of procedural reforms. The result of this process, however, was the massive expansion of policing in the form of SWAT teams, the War on Drugs and, ultimately, mass incarceration.
Princeton political scientist Naomi Murakawa, in her book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, details how the liberal assessment of the problems of race failed to take seriously the role of racial domination in the structuring of the criminal-justice system. Instead, they focused on the need to create a criminal-justice system that was more professional and less arbitrary in its meting out of punishment against people of color. Embedded in this approach was the misconception that the negative attitudes of blacks about the police were based on a combination of poorly trained and biased officers on the one hand and exaggerated feelings of mistrust by African-Americans, derived from their social and political isolation, on the other.
Rather than directly addressing the functional role of the police, and the ways in which the laws they were tasked to enforce were based on a history of racial inequality, liberal reforms worked to strengthen that legal system by increasing resources for its enforcement and imbuing it with a mission of race-blind equality of application. This was based on the fallacy that the law always protects everyone equally. But, in fact, the law was neither intended to nor in practice functions in that way. The poor in particular are at a disadvantage, in that the laws more harshly target the transgressions that they are more likely to commit. As Anatole French pointed out in 1894, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”
Today’s Task Force falls into this same trap. One of the central tenets of the Task Force’s report is reliance on procedural reforms. Procedural justice deals with the ways in which the law is enforced, rather than substantive justness, which involves the actual outcomes of the functioning of the system. Such procedural reforms focus on training officers to be more judicious and race-neutral in their use of force and how they interact with the public. The report encourages officers to work harder to explain to people why they are being stopped, questioned or arrested. Departments are advised to create consistent use of force policies and mechanisms for civilian oversight and transparency. The report implies that more training, diversity and communication will lead to enhanced police community relations, more effective crime control and greater police legitimacy.
Similar goals were set in the late 1960s. The Katzenbach report of 1967 argued that the roots of crime lay in poverty and racial exclusion, but also that a central part of the solution was the development of a more robust and procedurally fair criminal justice system that would uphold the rights of all people to be free of crime. In keeping with this, it called for a major expansion of federal spending on criminal justice. Just as local housing and social services programs needed federal support, so too did prisons, courts and police: “Every part of the system is undernourished. There is too little manpower and what there is is not well enough trained or well enough paid.” The Commission called for improved training, racial diversity in hiring, programmatic innovations, and research. The Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders reached a similar conclusion, calling for “advance [sic] training, planning, adequate intelligence systems, and knowledge of the ghetto community.”
Similarly, Johnson’s initial draft of the 1968 Safe Streets bill called for resources to be devoted to recruitment and training of police, modernization of equipment, better coordination between criminal-justice agencies, and innovative prevention and rehabilitation efforts, and had the support of the ACLU and other liberal reform groups. After Congress finished with it, the bill primarily granted funds in large blocks to states to use as they saw fit. Johnson signed the bill anyway, claiming that the core goals of professionalizing the police would be achieved. Over the next decade, the result was a massive expansion in police hardware, SWAT teams and drug enforcement units, and almost no money towards prevention and rehabilitation.
The one change many point to as a positive development from this era of reform was the emergence of community policing initiatives. Even this reform, however, was deeply problematic. Part of the problem lies in the nature of community. Steve Herbert, in his book, Citizens, Cops, and Power: Recognizing the Limits of Community, shows that those who are active in community affairs are not usually representative of the full diversity of views and experiences in urban neighborhoods. Community meetings tend to be populated by longtime residents; those who own, rather than rent, their homes; business owners; and landlords. The views of renters, youth, homeless people, immigrants and the most socially marginalized are rarely represented in these bodies. As a result, the problems identified by such a process tend to focus on “quality of life” concerns involving low-level disorderly behavior rather than serious crime.
Community policing also tends to turn all neighborhood problems into police problems. Across the country, community police programs have been based on the idea that the “community” should bring its myriad of concerns about neighborhood conditions to the police, who will work with them on developing solutions. The tools that police have for solving these problems, however, are generally limited to punitive enforcement actions such as arrests and ticketing. Why should the police necessarily be the sole or even lead agency in developing strategies to address community concerns about disorder and public safety?
By conceptualizing the problem of policing as one of inadequate training and professionalization, reformers fail to directly address the ways in which the very nature of policing and the legal system served to maintain and exacerbate racial inequality. By calling for color-blind “law and order,” they in essence strengthen a system that puts people of color at a structural disadvantage. At root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo. Police reforms that fail to directly address this reality are doomed to reproduce it.
The report does call for police to acknowledge their historical role in racial oppression, as was recently done by FBI Director James Comey and to a lesser extent Commissioner William Bratton in New York. Otherwise, the document largely lays out procedural reforms designed to better democratize the policing process through internal consultation with officers and their unions and external consultation with the public. Departments are urged to think of how the community will perceive their actions and to pursue non-punitive interactions with people to build trust. These reforms may improve the efficiency of police bureaucracies and improve relations with those active in police community dialogues, but will do little to address the dramatically expanded police role.
What is not discussed in the report is dialing back in any meaningful way the war on drugs, police militarization or the widespread use of “broken windows” policing that has led to the unnecessary criminalization of millions of mostly black and brown people. Well-trained police, following proper procedure, are still going to be engaged in the process of arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden of that will continue to fall primarily on communities of color, because that is how the system is designed to operate—not because of the bias or misunderstandings of officers. A more respectful and legally justified arrest for marijuana possession is still an arrest that could result in unemployment, loss of federal benefits and the stigma of a drug arrest.
Lee P. Brown, former NYPD commissioner, Clinton drug czar and mayor of Houston, has called for a more comprehensive examination of the criminal justice system and its negative impacts on communities of color. The Policing Task Force has called for something similar. It is imperative that such a commission critically assess our expanded reliance on policing as the primary and in many cases only tool for managing community problems and suggest real alternatives that strengthen communities of color.
More importantly, advocates need to continue pushing for structural reforms to policing and the larger criminal justice system while continually pointing out the role of racial inequality in structuring the nature and function of those systems. We cannot produce true justice by reforming police procedures. Instead, we need to call into question why we have come to rely so heavily on the police to manage social problems in a time of growing racial and economic inequality.
The John Geer Killing: Bulova desperate to save her political life invents unneeded commission on the the cops
Fairfax County considers new information policy in police shootings
By Tom Jackman February 18
Fairfax County is considering adopting a new policy for police shootings which would require release of the involved officers’ names within 72 hours of the incident, monthly public updates after the incident, and a public summary of facts when the case is turned over to the Fairfax prosecutor.
The issue arose when Fairfax police released no information for more than a year after an officer fatally shot John B. Geer in August 2013. Geer’s family filed a lawsuit in September 2014, followed by a court-ordered release of vast amounts of information in the lawsuit, which occurred last month. The Board of Supervisors is now pondering how to divulge information in future law enforcement-involved fatalities, to include car crashes and in-custody deaths.
Also Tuesday, Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) demanded a full accounting of the money spent by the county on outside attorneys, after reading in The Washington Post that Fairfax had already paid $130,000 to the D.C. law firm Hunton amp; Williams to respond to a November letter about the Geer case from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Herrity said he had asked for the same information on four occasions since December from the county’s budget department, but had gotten no answer. He also asked for the costs of outside counsel in cases involving the Fairfax Water litigation and for the firing last summer of assistant county attorney Nancy Loftus. The board directed that Herrity be provided those figures within a week.
Fairfax Board Chairman Sharon Bulova has already begun a process, assisted by deputy county executive and former Fairfax police chief David M. Rohrer, to find a consultant, existing research and best practices on how to release information after a police shooting. One proposed policy discussed Tuesday at the board meeting was drafted by Warren Carmichael, who spent 23 years as the Fairfax County police public information officer until his retirement in 2002. He now works closely with the Fairfax City police and recently proposed a policy for that department which he said will soon be considered by the Fairfax City council. It is below.
The proposal mandates that an agency “will release” within 72 hours the date, time, location and general nature of the incident, and “confirmed identities of agency personnel and others directly involved in the incident,” unless necessary people have not yet been notified. The proposal also says that “basic facts established as of that time,” with “existence of conflicting information” noted, should also be released. If the investigation continues for more than 30 days, “the agency shall publicly advise the status of the investigation at 30-day intervals.”
When the case is turned over to the prosecutor, “a summary of the pertinent facts developed during the investigation will be released,” Carmichael proposes. And once the prosecutor has made a decision, the agency “shall disclose if appropriate personnel actions were taken,” without being specific so as not to violate confidentiality rules.
“This looks like a good approach, a good starting point,” Bulova said Tuesday. “There may be other things we may want to consider.”
Herrity also called the proposed policy “a good start,” and said he hoped that the board would have a public safety committee hearing, which it has not in more than a year. Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who heads that committee, said he would hold such a meeting. Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said she welcomed Carmichael’s proposal, adding, “I think all of us are looking in the same direction.” Jeff McKay (D-Lee) said he liked the current police policy, which was devised by Rohrer and says a chief “may” release an officer’s name only after the prosecutor has made a decision on charging and if it doesn’t affect the officer’s safety or duty assignment, but that it may need some changes.
Geer’s case took an unusual turn when Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh referred the investigation to federal prosecutors in Alexandria in January 2014, rather than decide whether or not to charge Officer Adam D. Torres, who shot Geer once after a 42-minute stand-off. Morrogh said in his own letter to Grassley, and in e-mails released last month, that he wanted to review Torres’s internal affairs files before making a charging decision, but that Fairfax police refused to let him see them. With no charging decision forthcoming from the Justice Department, the police, prosecutor and politicians all remained silent. Subsequent public outcry, including a protest march outside of Fairfax police headquarters last month, led the Board of Supervisors to consider a different policy for the next incident.
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
Fairfax police commission adds outside voices
By Antonio Olivo March 14
The Fairfax County police commission created to deal with problems exposed by the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in 2013 has added nine members, following complaints that it was too heavily dominated by people with law-enforcement backgrounds.
The commission, which now has 34 members, was established by county board of supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova (D) to address public anger over the county’s handling of the investigation into the shooting of John Geer by Fairfax police officer Adam D. Torres.
It has scheduled its first meeting for March 23 and is supposed to deliver recommendations for policy changes by October.
Chairman Michael Hershman said the commission will focus on topics including police use-of-force policies and how the department relays information to the public. He said the panel will also delve into some of the concerns about police-community relations that were reflected in nationwide protests that followed the police-involved deaths last year of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in New York City.
“I’d like to dedicate one commission meeting as an open forum for citizens to come in and express their views and feelings,” said Hershman, who is president of the Fairfax Group, a crisis management company.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure we have established trust and respect between the community and the police force and that it’s sustainable in the future.”
The commission originally included nine people with ties to local law enforcement agencies or unions, along with the president of the Fairfax Bar Association; a former deputy county attorney; a criminologist; representatives of local news organizations; and five citizen representatives, including the president of the Fairfax NAACP and the executive director of the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability.
Deputy county executive David M. Rohrer, a former Fairfax police chief, is also on the commission, though he won’t vote because he is part of the county administration, an aide to Bulova said.
Among the additions are two lawyers with civil litigation backgrounds, a professor, a consultant and five citizen representatives. The citizens include Sal Culosi, whose son was shot to death by a Fairfax police officer in 2006, and Robert Cluck, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Former commonwealth’s attorney Robert Horan will also play a role.
Bulova said she wants as many voices as possible to be part of the conversation, including various police groups. “There will be a lot of balance and a lot of differing opinions,” Bulova said. “I’m looking forward to this being an opportunity to come together over what is not a simple issue.”
Robert Kane, the criminologist on the commission, said a broad range of perspectives is essential.
“If you put five police officers around a water cooler and ask them how to solve a crime problem, you’re likely to get answers like: conduct more corner sweeps, conduct more stops-and-frisk, establish a curfew for juveniles,” said Kane, who lives in Fairfax and is on the faculty at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“But if you get one cop, a social worker, a teacher, a nurse, and a business owner around the same water cooler and ask them the same question, you’re likely to get an answer that addresses crime from multiple dimensions.”
Bulova said the commission should also look at how county police and sheriff’s deputies deal with people with mental illness — an issue that has drawn scrutiny in Fairfax after a mentally ill woman died in the county jail last month following the use of a Taser on her several times.
“When people wind up in our jail instead of getting treatment within the community, these are things that we absolutely need to be addressing,” Bulova said.
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who opposed the creation of the commission, said he’s worried that it will take on too many issues to get anything significant accomplished — especially with several members of the board of supervisors up for election in November.
“If you’re going to review the entire police department, you’re not going to do it in six months,” said Frey, who is not seeking reelection. “There’s no question this will become a political football.”
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.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova Bulova to Create Transparency Review Commission
Group would include citizens, legal community and other organizations.
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 County to create commission in wake of Geer shooting controversy
By Antonio Olivo March 2
In the midst of an investigation of a police shooting of an unarmed man, Chairman Sharon Bulova of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors plans to announce a new 25-member police commission on Tuesday.
The commission, which will include members from law enforcement, academia, neighborhood organizations and the media, was created to “maintain” public trust, Bulova (D) said, in the wake of the county’s handling the fatal 2013 shooting of John Geer, who was killed by a county police officer in the doorway of his Springfield home.
“I want to give everyone an opportunity to make suggestions” on how the commission reviews police procedures, Bulova said.
The Geer case has generated increasing concern among county board members over how police shootings are handled.
Also on Tuesday, the board will discuss possible disciplinary action in the office of longtime County Attorney David P. Bobzien after revelations last week that he and his deputies failed to keep supervisors apprised of a dispute between police and county prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh as he investigated the shooting.
Among the revelations: that Bobzien’s office didn’t tell supervisors that the county was refusing to provide files to federal prosecutors in 2014; and that Bobzien’s office didn’t tell them Morrogh wanted to meet with the supervisors to discuss the advice Bobzien’s staff was giving police.
“Unless I hear something that’s dramatically different, I expect there’ll be some terminations in the county attorney’s office,” Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said Monday. “It’s completely unacceptable to not be told the commonwealth’s attorney wants to speak with us. It’s completely unacceptable to get in the way of a police investigation.”
Bulova said the new police commission will be charged with reviewing police department policies after the Geer case — which has been under review by the federal Department of Justice for more than a year — exposed concerns over transparency and cooperation by county officials in criminal investigations.
After Officer Adam D. Torres shot and killed Geer in the doorway of Geer’s Springfield home, the county police department — acting on the advice of the county attorney’s office — refused to turn over internal affairs files to Morrogh’s office, which was investigating the shooting.
Morrogh referred the case to federal officials, who, more than a year later, have yet to determine whether to file criminal charges against Torres.
E-mails released by Morrogh show that he tried unsuccessfully to discuss his concerns with Bulova and the other supervisors.
In e-mails, Morrogh said the county’s attorneys instructed the head of 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 — a detail that county officials dispute.
On Tuesday, county spokesman Tony Castrilli said no county attorney ever made such a recommendation to Maj. Michael Kline, the commander of the internal affairs bureau.
When Morrogh asked about the allegation, “he was told unequivocally and individually by the members of the County Attorney’s Office present at that meeting that Major Kline must have misinterpreted something that had been said when he reported such statement to Mr. Morrogh,” Castrilli said in an e-mailed statement.
Nick Beltrante, a former District police officer, is among those who will be appointed to the new Fairfax police commission.
Beltrante, the executive director of the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, has been lobbying Fairfax board members to create an independent review board since 2010.
He said he has three priorities as a commission member: “accountability, transparency and to end the stonewalling.”
The Fairfax police department “has been failing in the area of accountability,” Beltrante said. “It really troubles, not only myself, but family members and the general public that even after an investigation is completed, the department refuses to release basic information concerning an incident,” he said.
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.
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.
Fairfax deputy county attorney could lose job over handling of Geer case
By Antonio Olivo and Tom Jackman March 5
Fairfax County officials are trying to oust the deputy county attorney who led the legal team advising the county police and Board of Supervisors in the 2013 police shooting death of an unarmed man, according to several people with knowledge of the decision.
Cynthia L. Tianti, a 25-year veteran of the county attorney’s office, is “on leave,” according to an e-mail County Attorney David Bobzien sent Wednesday to his staff. And five people with knowledge of the situation said that Tianti’s leave is the first step in forcing her out and reorganizing the office in the wake of its handling of the Geer case.
Bobzien, too, had earlier this week announced that he will retire in June 2016. But it was Tianti, several supervisors have said, who led the county attorney office’s involvement in the Geer case.
Documents show that Tianti counseled the Fairfax police to withhold internal affairs files from the county prosecutor investigating the August 2013 shooting, which occurred during a response to a domestic dispute at Geer’s Springfield townhouse.
And according to board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), the county attorney’s office did not tell supervisors that prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh had requested a meeting with Bulova and the rest of the board to discuss the case.
Morrogh, frustrated by what he saw as obstruction by the police, referred the Geer case to federal prosecutors, where it has remained since January 2014.
The action against Tianti comes as part of a reorganization inside the county attorney’s office in response to anger from county supervisors over being kept in the dark about Morrogh’s investigation of the killing of Geer by county police officer Adam D. Torres.
Torres told investigators that he saw Geer move his hands to his waist and thought he might be reaching for a weapon. But other officers who witnessed the shooting said Geer was standing in the doorway of his townhouse with his hands overhead, grasping the top of the storm door, when Torres shot him.
County spokesman Tony Castrilli declined to comment on Tianti’s employment status. Several county supervisors, including Bulova, also declined to comment on the specifics — although several acknowledged that changes in leadership in the attorney’s office are underway.
“There are going to be changes in the personnel involved in the Geer case,” said Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock.)
“The legal team assigned to the case in the county attorney’s office will have new leadership,” added Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville.)
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who was chief among those calling for terminations in the office.
Tianti, who joined the county attorney’s office in 1989 and is paid about $180,000 a year, did not return phone calls left at her home in Alexandria did not respond to e-mails sent to her county e-mail address.
Under county policy, an employee facing termination has 20 business days to contest that action, which could lead to a hearing before a three-member civil service commission.
In addition to sending the e-mail about Tianti’s leave, Bobzien has hired a lawyer, former Prince William County attorney Sharon E. Pandak, to “assist with personnel-related matters,” Pandak said Thursday.
In 2013, Tianti was among three county employees recognized for outstanding work.
In announcing the A. Heath Onthank award, the county cited Tianti’s coordination of a 2012 settlement of the 50-year dispute over water service between Fairfax and surrounding jurisdictions.
Among other things, the settlement led to the public utility Fairfax Water’s $40 million purchase of the Falls Church water system.
According to Cook, one of the county supervisors, the Geer case exposed organizational problems in the attorney’s office, where Bobzien didn’t always have direct oversight of conversations and decisions.
The Geer team “was operating without much input from the county attorney, and that shouldn’t be,” he said.
The reorganization will create a management structure that has “more reporting up directly to the county attorney as a way of making sure the county attorney is personally providing necessary oversight,” Cook said.
County leaders have sought to stay on top of the Geer case since the problems with the county attorney’s office were revealed.
Earlier this week, the board endorsed a 25-member police commission created by Bulova to delve into several county procedures after a police shooting. The commission is scheduled to deliver a report of recommendations by Oct. 1.
It is not clear if Bobzien will retire earlier than he had intended. Under the retirement plan that Bobzien is enrolled in, he is required to retire by March 2017.
Jail Death: Video Under Wraps During Investigation, Police Say
Natasha McKenna, 37, died after suffering a medical emergency soon after she was tased at the Fairfax Adult Detention Center.
By Sharon Reed (Patch Staff) March 10, 2015 at 6:05am
Pointing to an ongoing investigation, Fairfax County Police are not releasing a video showing the treatment of a woman who died at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center last month. The video reportedly shows the woman being tased by deputies and further restrained before suffering a medical emergency during transport between facilities.
The video is “crucial evidence” as investigators work through dozens of interviews in the death investigation, according to a message from Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. in a statement on the department’s blog.
“Release of any evidence before the conclusion of the criminal review process can jeopardize any follow-up interviews,” Roessler wrote. He did not state when the video would be released to the public.
Natasha McKenna, 37, of Alexandria, died Feb. 8 after being taken off life support. McKenna reportedly had a medical emergency after she was tased by Fairfax County Sheriff’s deputies Feb. 3 during an attempt to transport her to the Alexandria Adult Detention Center.
The 45-minute video reportedly starts with the attempt to remove McKenna from her cell and ends with the ambulance response to the detention center, according to The Washington Post.
“The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office staff are fully cooperating with the investigation. Fairfax County Police Department detectives have conducted over 50 interviews,” Roessler wrote. “These interviews include Sheriff deputies involved in the event and those who were witnesses, other inmates who may have been witnesses, Office of the Sheriff medical staff, fire and rescue personnel, and other medical staff.”
Results of an autopsy will also be withheld from the public during the investigation, according to the Chief. When completed, the results of a medical examiner’s report will be turned over to the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for determination of criminal liability, according to Roessler.
McKenna was arrested on Jan. 20 on charges in Alexandria claiming that she assaulted a law enforcement officer.
Police Department Remains Under Pressure In Fairfax County
By: Michael Pope
Leaders in Fairfax County, Virginia, are trying to respond to complaints that their police department uses excessive force and lacks transparency.
The chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bulova, is putting together a new commission to review the department.
"This is about taking a look at how other jurisdictions and other states handle some of the issues such as working with the community and the media and the press to release information," Bulova says.
Back in 2006, the department sent a SWAT team to raid a gambling game and killed Sal Culosi. Then, in 2009, Fairfax police killed David Masters, an unarmed driver, and kept the dashboard video secret. More recently, federal investigators are looking into the death John Geer, an unarmed Springfield man who was killed in 2013.
One of the members of the newly created commission, Nicholas Beltrante, is already calling for Police Chief Edwin Roessler to resign.
"This chief has been ineffective, and he remains in hiding," Beltrante says.
Through a spokeswoman the chief denied a request to be interviewed for this story, but the police department issued a written statement saying it would be premature for the chief to comment on Beltrante's call for his resignation before the commission meets for the first time. A date for that meeting has not been set yet.
The Post's View
Unwarranted deaths in Fairfax
By Editorial Board March 7
IT TOOK well over a year for officials in Fairfax County to notice the stunning absence of accountability in the case of John Geer, an unarmed man who was shot to death by a county police officer in August 2013. Recently, they have begun taking steps to close that accountability gap.
Now the clock is ticking on another apparently senseless death, this time involving Natasha McKenna, a mentally ill woman who died a month ago after being repeatedly shot with a stun gun by sheriff’s deputies in the county jail. Ms. McKenna, an unimposing 37-year-old woman, had resisted a specially trained team of six sheriff’s deputies who went to extract her from her cell. It should not have been necessary to subdue her with a stun gun, let alone fire it multiple times.
So far, no charges have been filed, and no resolution reached, in either case. And while critical information has finally been made public (after months of stonewalling) in the Geer case — including the identity of the police officer who pulled the trigger and the accounts of witnesses — it is still being withheld in the McKenna case.
The most encouraging sign of progress is the establishment of a commission to review police policies governing the use of force and the department’s disclosure of information in shootings by officers. The broadly representative commission, created at the instigation of Sharon Bulova, the Democratic chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors, is to issue its recommendations by Oct. 1.
At the same time, the supervisors have made known their displeasure with their lawyers in the county attorney’s office, whom they blame for advising the police not to cooperate with county prosecutors investigating Mr. Geer’s death. Yet by focusing their ire almost exclusively on a deputy county attorney who was handling the case — Cynthia L. Tianti, a 25-year veteran of the office — they seem to have settled on a scapegoat. Do not the police chief, Edwin C. Roessler Jr., and the county attorney himself, David P. Bobzien, deserve at least equal shares of the blame for months of obstruction and foot-dragging?
In the death of Ms. McKenna, a mother of a young daughter, the supervisors may have somewhat less leverage. The jail guards under investigation, who have not been disciplined in any way, are employees of the sheriff’s office, led by the independently elected sheriff, Stacey Kincaid.
Their actions preceding Ms. McKenna’s death are under investigation by the police. But the policies of the sheriff’s department governing the use of force, including deployment of stun guns and extraction of inmates from their cells, are not subject to county review. That means it is up to Sheriff Kincaid to launch an assessment of how deputies at the county jail go about their jobs, with an eye to ensuring that incidents like the one culminating with the death of Ms. McKenna do not recur. Rather than repeat the police department’s stonewalling mistake, she should act to initiate that assessment.