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.
Four Police Dogs Have Died in Five Weeks After Being Forgotten in Hot Cars
A Georgia K9 officer at Savannah State University died earlier this month after his handler mistakenly left him in a hot car – the second such police dog death in the state this month and the fourth nationwide since mid-June.
Baston, a 7-year-old German shepherd, passed away on July 10 at his handler's home in Rincon, Georgia, after being left in the car for three to four hours, according to police reports.
Authorities say that Baston was forgotten in the back seat of the car after his unidentified handler brought in food to his family at home. The handler then had dinner and fell asleep before realizing he left the K9 in the car. But by the time the handler reached the car, Baston was dead.
The windows had been rolled up and the engine was turned off. Baston was rushed inside and put into a cool bath – but it was too late. Weather reports show temperatures that day reached above 95 degrees.
Baston joined the SSU Police Department in 2010 and helped multiple local law enforcement agencies during his time on duty.
"The Savannah State University family is saddened by the loss of K9 officer Baston," SSU said in a statement to PEOPLE. "He contributed significantly to the safety of all on the SSU campus for the past five years. Baston's skills were also employed to assist surrounding law enforcement agencies and departments."
Baston's death comes within days of the death of another Georgia K9. Zane, a 5-year-old bloodhound with Conyers Police Department, was found dead on the afternoon of July 16 after being left in his handler's car for about 10 hours, officials told PEOPLE.
Zane's handler, Cpl. Jerahmy Williams, had come off a 12-hour shift and felt ill. Breaking his normal routine, he skipped the gym, went straight home and fell asleep, Conyers police spokesperson Kim Lucas said.
Williams discovered his mistake when he woke up, and he immediately called his supervisor, Lucas said. He was placed on paid leaving pending an investigation, but is "completely devastated," she said.
"We fully believe this was a sheer accident," she said.
There are no laws in Georgia that prevent officers from keeping their dogs in the car, according to WTOC. "A law like that would hinder dogs from being effective. They need to be able to be on a scene in minutes," one handler told the station.
Lucas says it's within department regulation to briefly leave a dog in a vehicle as long as it's running – and vehicles such as Williams' are equipped with additional safety measures while the ignition is on, which trigger if the car overheats.
Since mid-June, there have been two other such police dog deaths around the country.
Mason, a 3-year-old "community engagement officer" in Gulf Shores, Alabama, died in on June 18 after being left in the back of a patrol car while on duty. And on June 30, a Stockton, California, K9 named Nitro died after the air-conditioner failed in his police car.
Stockton Police spokesperson Joe Silva shared with PEOPLE what his department is doing to prevent any further K9 deaths.
"Handlers have been directed to leave their K9 partners at home on days the weather forecast calls for 100 degrees or more, until new vehicles are put into service," he said.
Silva also said that while this is the first incident he can recall of this kind at SPD, everyone should take precaution when it comes to leaving anyone or anything in a hot car.
"Everyone needs to remember that dogs are more vulnerable to high temperatures than people," he said. "Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes."
• Additional reporting by ADAM CARLSON