By Editorial Board July 28
EVEN BEFORE the violence a year ago in Ferguson, Mo., after the police killing of Michael Brown, many law enforcement agencies across the country responded to incidents involving the use of deadly force by proactively releasing dashcam, body-camera and other video footage when it existed. The idea, as a top police official told The Post after video of a 12-year-old boy killed by a rookie patrol officer in Cleveland was released days after the incident in November, is “in the spirit of being open and fair with our community.”
By a quick, partial and unscientific scan of Google, we see videos released by police and other law agencies involving fatal incidents over the past 18 months in Boston; Tulsa; Gardena, Calif.; Longview, Tex.; North Charleston, S.C.; Albuquerque ; and, in the recent arrest of Sandra Bland — who later died in jail in an alleged suicide — Prairie View, Tex.
If only the authorities in Fairfax County had gotten the message.
In Fairfax, nearly six months after the fact, officials in the police, sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices continue to withhold from the public a video depicting an in-custody struggle at the county jail between guards and Natasha McKenna, a mentally ill inmate. Ms. McKenna, who was shot repeatedly with a Taser stun gun after she had been handcuffed, never regained consciousness; she died five days later, on Feb. 8.
Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid, whose office runs the jail, and Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., whose department conducted the investigation, both pledged their commitment to candor and transparency. So why haven’t they released the video, which sources tell us runs more than 30 minutes and captures much of the prolonged confrontation that led to Ms. McKenna’s death?
Mr. Roessler, for his part, has said the video cannot be released because it is “evidence.” But the videos in Boston, Tulsa, Gardena, Longview, North Charleston, Albuquerque and Prairie View were also “evidence.” The authorities in those places released them nonetheless — and in most instances, they did so quickly.
In a number of those incidents, police and other law enforcement officials appear to conduct themselves professionally. Other incidents are embarrassing for the police, portraying what looks like indefensible and possibly criminal use of force, including in the killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed man shot in the back in North Charleston as he tried to flee from an officer after a traffic stop in April.
In addition to releasing videos, in most cases authorities also publicly identified the officers involved. In many, the officers involved were placed on administrative duty or leave until the outcome of the investigation.
In Fairfax, none of the six sheriff’s deputies who struggled with Ms. McKenna have yet been identified, either by name or by race. (Ms. McKenna was black.) In Fairfax, not one was placed on administrative duty or leave. In Fairfax, mum’s the word.
Here’s the relevant question for Fairfax authorities: Are they content to brand the county and its law enforcement agencies as among the least accountable in the nation?
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.
Where Sharon "Show me the money" on this? Where's the board of supervisors on this?
By Tom Jackman July 28
A request by the father of David A. Masters, the unarmed motorist shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer in 2009, to see the investigative files and learn why the shooting happened has been denied by Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler. Roessler said that since there is no statute of limitations on murder or manslaughter, he will not release the information and cited the clause in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act that Fairfax police use to deny FOIA requests for crime reports in virtually every case, according to areport issued last week by a committee studying Fairfax police communications.
But there is no statute of limitations on any felony in Virginia, giving Fairfax police justification to deny all felony crime report requests forever. And Roessler’s denial letter, received Monday by Masters’ father, retired Army colonel Barrie Masters of Sanford, Fla., gives no indication that the Fairfax police ever intend to change their policy of refusing access to police reports in officer-involved shootings, instead discussing “review by an independent auditor” and “a higher level of accountability for all.”
Masters, 52, was shot as he drove away from Officer David S. Ziants on Route 1 in the Alexandria area of Fairfax on Nov. 13, 2009. Ziants was not charged with a crime because he believed, mistakenly, that Masters was reaching for a gun, was driving a stolen vehicle and had run over another officer, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said in January 2010. But Ziants was fired for violating the department’s use of deadly force policy.
But unlike the police shootings of Salvatore Culosi Jr. in 2006 and John B. Geer in 2013, there was no civil suit to force Fairfax police to release information about the Masters case. Masters had named his ex-wife and stepdaughter as the executors of his estate, but under Virginia law they were not entitled to recover any damages since they were not his legal family, though they were his daily companions and closest friends. Masters’ brother-in-law attempted to file a suit anyway in 2011, but it went nowhere.
Meanwhile, Masters’ father watched from a distance, his anger slowly burning. Then in May of this year, Roessler suddenly released an in-car video camera tape of Ziants hustling up to Masters’ vehicle and then firing shots just out of camera range, while another officer screams at him to stop shooting. This outraged Barrie Masters, who earlier this month sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the police seeking everything related to the case.
In the letter below, Roessler denied access to everything. “In an effort to provide transparency to you on the internal administrative investigation,” Roessler wrote, “the Police Department terminated Officer Ziants’ employment on March 24, 2011.” This was publicly reported by The Post in June 2011, though a police spokeswoman then said Ziants had been fired on May 6, 2011.
Roessler goes on to discuss that his department has been working with the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission “to hopefully develop a process of increasing transparency in many areas including those of officer-involved shooting cases.” The chief explains that he hopes to create a review process so that the investigations are thorough and that once a case is completely resolved, it could be reviewed by an independent auditor. He does not mention ever making any investigative documents publicly available.
Roessler’s letter, dated Friday, was written a day after he was asked by The Post about releasing police reports and said, “I’m considering a change. 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.”
Barrie Masters responded in an e-mail to Roessler Monday night that his use of the FOIA exemption for “criminal investigative files” is something “You and your associates have hidden behind this assertion for almost 6 years now, and of course, you well know that the current law does not say the information requested is exempt from release only that it can be released at the discretion of the custodian. Your own Police Practices Review Commission, Communications Subcommittee, (which I fully support) has recommended you end the blanket approach to suppressing information under the excuse of your own interpretation of 2.2-3706 (2) and move toward the timely release of all criminal investigative information..It is time that Fairfax County Government and Fairfax County Law Enforcement join the rest of the Nation in advocating transparency.”
Here is Roessler’s letter denying Masters’ FOIA request:
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
Nazi state tactics by a bored police force and the Board of Supervisors say and does nothing to stop it
More Than 900 Vehicles stopped by the cops at one check point in the span of several hours
The idiots on the Fairfax County Police force stopped 969 cars at Richmond Highway and Mount Eagle Drive.
They made 3 arrests for drunk driving but refuse to release information on how much alcohol the drivers had consumed.
The effective rate is less than 0.05%, less is figured on an hourly bases.
My dog could have made more arrests by walking around the neighborhood for a few hours.
You paid for it and the cops got away with it again.