Why don't we just buy a police uniform for Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh and get on with it?
Fairfax prosecutors back off on calling police shooting victim’s daughter to grand jury
By Tom Jackman
In response to concerns raised by her family, the teenaged daughter of a man shot dead by a Fairfax County police officer in 2013 will not be called by prosecutors to testify before a special grand jury, which will begin its investigation in the Fairfax courthouse on Monday. But she will remain under subpoena and could still be called if the grand jurors seek her testimony, the family’s lawyer said Thursday.
John B. Geer, 46, was standing in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse on Aug. 29, 2013, when he was shot dead by Officer Adam D. Torres. Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh has subpoenaed about 20 witnesses to appear before a special grand jury which will decide whether to indict Torres, including police officers who saw the shooting, Geer’s longtime girlfriend Maura Harrington, and their 19-year-old daughter Haylea Geer.
Haylea Geer did not witness the shooting, which occurred after a 42-minute standoff between Geer and the police. But she did see Geer’s behavior prior to the police arrival, when Geer was tossing Harrington’s belongings out of the house, police reports show. And reports show she also told detectives immediately after the shooting that her father could be abusive when drinking and had once put a gun to her mother’s head, which Harrington said was false.
[Family slams subpoena of John Geer’s teen daughter to Fairfax grand jury]
Harrington and her attorney, Michael Lieberman, were outraged that Haylea Geer was subpoenaed to testify, and Lieberman sent a letter to Morrogh asking that he reconsider. Morrogh responded with a letter Thursday saying that Haylea Geer would not have to appear when the grand jury begins hearing testimony Monday, so long as she was available on another date if the grand jurors themselves request her.
“The grand jury, itself,” Morrogh wrote, “can subpoena any person who they deem necessary to their deliberations. At the outset, it is my duty to begin the process by issuing subpoenas to the primary witnesses to the events in question. I have done so. At this point I cannot anticipate what the scope of the grand jury investigation will be.”
Morrogh wrote that he could not recall the subpoena to Haylea Geer, but would not ask her to testify, though the grand jury still might.
Lieberman said he was glad to learn of Morrogh’s decision. “We appreciate the courtesy,” Lieberman said, “and we don’t think she should ever have to appear. She did not see the incident where Torres intentionally shot her father.”
John Geer, having learned that Harrington was moving out of their Springfield home of 24 years, had begun throwing her belongings outside while their two daughters, then 17 and 12, watched and then called their mother. Harrington returned home from work and when Geer continued to toss her items around, she called 911. Torres and Officer David Neil responded, Geer retreated behind his screen door and, according to Torres, showed the officers a holstered pistol. Neil and Torres drew their weapons, and soon Officer Rodney Barnes arrived and began a 40-minute conversation with Geer before Torres suddenly fired one round into Geer’s chest.
Police reports show Torres claimed that Geer had suddenly jerked his hands to his waist. Barnes and three other officers, plus Geer’s father and best friend, all said Geer had his hands near his head, their statements show.
“John stood there for 45 minutes with his hands above his head,” Lieberman said, “speaking calmly with Officer Barnes, saying he didn’t want to die that day and then he was shot in the chest. Haylea doesn’t have anything to add to that…It is not the job of a prosecutor to put on a witness that is helpful to the defense. And hopefully, that’s not where they’re going.”
Morrogh declined to comment on the letter Thursday. Torres remains on the force, on desk duty, and has not faced any internal discipline either, though an internal affairs investigation began in September 2014. Fairfax settled the family’s civil suit in April for $2.95 million.
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
This, this report, dreamt up by Sharon “Show me the money” Bulova, is a toothless tiger all done for show at the expense of good and well-meaning people.
The cops aren’t required to do anything this report recommends nor will they do anything recommended in this report.
Look, this is very simple. Put body cameras on the idiots, fire the chief of police and bring someone in from way, way, way outside the beltway to run things. Problem solved.
Report: Fairfax police need ‘real change — now’ in public communications
By Tom Jackman
A committee assigned to examine how the Fairfax County Police Department communicates with the public has issued a blunt report which pulls no punches: “Real change is needed — now,” the report says, criticizing the police for their “lip service to the idea of transparency” on both breaking incidents and routine information requests.
“It is well past time for the Fairfax County Police Department to start providing timely, honest and effective communications with everything it does,” the new report declares. “We deserve nothing less.”
The report was issued by one of five subcommittees formed within the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission, formed by Fairfax Chairman Sharon Bulova in March after public outcry over the lack of information or movement in the still unresolved police shooting of John Geer in Springfield. Geer was shot and killed by Officer Adam D. Torres in August 2013 as he stood unarmed in the doorway of his home, but police refused to discuss the case or even disclose the officer’s name until January 2015, after Geer’s family sued Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. for wrongful death. A special grand jury is scheduled to begin hearing testimony on the case Monday.
In addiion to the Ad Hoc commission, an analysis of the Fairfax police’s use of force policies by the Police Executive Research Forum — requested by Roessler before the Geer shooting, but not launched until July 2014 — resulted in 71 recommended changes to the policies, and Roessler said he would make 70 of them. The changes are not drastic, but one in particular could be transformative: A suggestion that Fairfax not begin its training of new recruits with the mechanics of firing a gun, as it does now.
“PERF believes it is important to change this approach,” executive director Chuck Wexler wrote. “The first days and weeks of recruit training should focus on the most significant issues, concepts and values of policing in a democratic society,” to include the role of police in protecting constitutional rights, the sanctity of human life, use-of-force policies and crisis intervention strategies.
Wexler presented the report to the Ad Hoc commission last month, even though it has its own “Use of Force” subcommittee devising its own report. The following week, at the subcommittee’s meeting, Roessler said he embraced the PERF report, which also calls for revamping the way officers decide whether to use force and increasing the number of officers trained to deal with mentally disturbed subjects. Lawyer and commissioner Joseph Cammarata asked the chief whether he would do more than just issue new directives, but actually provide direct training on the new approaches.
“Will you be retraining everybody on use of force?” Cammarata asked.
“I have to. Yes,” Roessler said.
In addition to use of force, the Ad Hoc commission is focusing on four other areas: communications; mental health and crisis intervention training;recruitment, diversity and vetting; and independent oversight and investigations. All five subcommittees are to submit reports and recommendations to the full 34-member commission, for presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 1, and the communications committee weighed in first with a powerful analysis and detailed recommendations to overhaul the way Fairfax police communicate with their community.
“Communications in recent high-profile use-of-force and critical incident cases were mishandled, inadequate and untimely” the report states, “leading to loss of public trust and questions about the legitimacy of police actions…If the department had policies that fostered real transparency, it’s unlikely the controversies in recent years would have lasted so long and there likely would not have even been a call to form this commission.”
The committee calls on the Board of Supervisors to “insist on policies that lean toward releasing information as soon as possible,” whether in daily communications, during a significant event or in a Freedom of Information Act request, which it says the police have a “blanket approach” of rejecting records requests whenever legally able to do so. “There must be significant change coming from the leadership of the county and the Fairfax County Police Department,” Fitzgerald’s committee wrote.
Among the specific recommendations, the committee urges police to release the names of officers involved in shootings within a week, saying the national average is two days, and to immediately release all video and audio recordings if a citizen is killed. The committee also calls on the police to shorten the current 6-20 month timeframe to internally investigate officer-involved shootings and be responsive to questions from the public and news media. In the Geer case, the Fairfax police rejected numerous requests for the name of the officer and only released it after it was ordered provided to Geer’s family by a judge, 16 months after the shooting. The internal investigation of Torres remains open 10 months after it was begun.
Virginia’s Freedom of Information law allows law enforcement agencies to withhold any information in a “criminal investigative file” indefinitely, though it has the discretion to release it as well. Fairfax police, with the guidance of the Fairfax County attorney, have long rejected all requests for police reports of any type. Earlier this month, longtime deputy county attorney Peter D. Andreoli Jr. advised Fitzgerald’s committee that if they wanted to change that approach, they should go to Richmond and change the law.
The committee ignored that suggestion. Instead, they called on the Board of Supervisors to “publicly adopt a resolution…to revisit FOIA laws with an eye toward expanding instead of limiting the public release of information related to police-involved shootings and other police practices and procedures related to official police activities…changing the current policy of automatically withholding all exempt records.”
Roessler read the report and said, “I don’t have a negative reaction to this. Some of the items we have been implementing already,” such as seeking to hire a permanent civilian spokesman, rather than a rotating police commander, and starting to shift the officer handling FOIA requests from the internal affairs unit to the public information office.
Roessler said he appreciated the feedback from members of the community and wanted to keep them active and available to advise him after the Ad Hoc commission formally disbands. The communications report suggested the Board of Supervisors hold community forums every six months starting next year to review the progress Fairfax police are making on the commission’s recommendations, and Roessler said he agreed with that.
Fitzgerald, who was the county’s main spokesperson for 14 years until her retirement last year, said, “Mistakes have been made. So moving foward, the easier part will be to change things like policies, procedures, staffing. The harder part will be changing the culture. And to get the culture of transparency we deserve and want to see is going to make some people uncomfortable.”
Can the Fairfax police change a culture where the tendency is often to release the least amount of information possible? “I understand what they’re saying,” Roessler said. He said he was pushing for a greater presence in social media and quicker release of breaking news. Both he and Fitzgerald noted that the police have provided vast amounts of data and cooperation to the Ad Hoc commission.
But what about releasing actual police reports, virtually never done now? “I’m considering a change,” Roessler said. “There’s got to be more dialogue about how we respond to this. This is a national dialogue, and the profession needs to change. I need to help this department change. This is the community’s voice and I need to actively listen and implement where I can.”
After the commission compiles the five committee reports and submits a full report to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 1, the police will have about three weeks to prepare a detailed response on how they plan to handle the report’s recommendations. The supervisors’ public safety committee will then have a rare meeting on Oct. 27, a week before Election Day, to discuss what they will ask the police to implement.
Do the police have to do the supervisors’ bidding? “I report to them,” Roessler said. “They can work with me to direct policy changes. That’s their prerogative, and they’re my employer. I don’t see any conflict with getting these recommendations in place.”
The commissioners on the communications subcommittee, chaired by Fitzgerald, are Deputy Chief Tom Ryan, police assistant spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, current county spokesman Tony Castrilli, lawyers Doug Kay and Eric Clingan, Connection newspapers publisher Mary Kimm, former WUSA-9 reporter and current blogger Dave Statter, Tim Thompson and Daniela Cockayne from the county’s federation of citizens association and police homicide Det. John Wallace. Non-commissioners also serving are Darryl Drevna, Patrick Smaldore, Brennan Murphy, Jose Santos and Darryl Dennis.