It won't bring back Det. Vicky Armel and MPO Mike Garbarino. But for their still-grieving families, friends and colleagues, Brian Harold Kennedy's guilty plea Tuesday in federal court will, at least, provide some measure of justice.
Kennedy is the father of Michael Kennedy, 18, who was killed in a shootout, last year, at the Sully District Police Station. The mentally disturbed teen went on a rampage there, fatally wounding both Armel and Garbarino with weapons his father had brought into their Centreville home.
In April of this year, a federal grand jury indicted Brian Kennedy on eight counts — six weapons charges and two drug charges. Slated to begin a jury trial next Monday, Aug. 13, he instead pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, to two of those offenses.
"This is a stark reminder of the tragic consequences of mixing guns and drugs," said U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg. "Our hearts go out to the Armel and Garbarino families, and to the Fairfax County Police Department, for the terrible losses they have suffered."
Kennedy, 50, entered guilty pleas to making a false statement (denying his drug use) to a licensed, firearms dealer in connection with the purchase of an AK-47 assault rifle, and to the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition by a marijuana user.
He could receive as much as 20 years in prison when he's sentenced in October but, under federal sentencing guidelines, he's more likely to get 37-46 months. He's currently free on $100,000 bond.
The tragedy occurred May 8, 2006. Armel, 40, died at the scene, and Garbarino, 53, succumbed nine days later. Both left spouses and children.
IN A STATEMENT released Tuesday, Fairfax County Police Chief Dave Rohrer called that day's violence "senseless" and said nothing would ever be able to "erase the sense of loss" for Garbarino's and Armel's families, the men and women of the county police department or the community.
But, added Rohrer, "I want to express my sincere gratitude to Chuck Rosenberg, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Trump; Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick; Edgar A. Domenech, Special Agent in Charge, Washington Field Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and my detectives for their determined efforts in investigating and prosecuting this case and holding Mr. Kennedy accountable for his actions."
"I also appreciate the respect they demonstrated in remembrance of our fallen officers, and for the Armel and Garbarino families, throughout this investigation," continued Rohrer. "Their dedication and determination is commendable."
The unthinkable events of May 8, 2006 started around 3:40 p.m., when a heavily armed Michael Kennedy carjacked a van and drove into the rear lot of the Sully District Police Station. Unarmed, Garbarino was inside his cruiser after his shift, preparing to leave on vacation. Suddenly, from a few yards away, Kennedy fired more than 20 rounds at him with an AK-47 rifle.
Garbarino was struck five times; yet though gravely wounded and in pain, he radioed other officers, alerting them to the danger. He provided suspect information, directed responding officers and told the police helicopter where to land.
ARMEL WENT outside to respond to the carjacking and, when she reached her cruiser, Kennedy arrived and began shooting at Garbarino. Drawing Kennedy's fire away from Garbarino, she and Kennedy exchanged gunfire, and a bullet from his 30.06-caliber rifle pierced her ballistic vest and struck her in the chest.
Armed with five handguns, an AK-47 assault weapon, a high-powered rifle and more than 300 rounds of ammunition, Kennedy fired 70 rounds-plus before other officers killed him.
Later that night, Det. Craig Paul and other police officers executed a search warrant at Kennedy's home at 6200 Prince Way in Centreville, seizing a veritable arsenal of weapons and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition. Meanwhile, Brian Kennedy, his wife and daughter, 9, went into seclusion elsewhere.
Nearly a year went by; but then, on April 5, an ATF agent arrested Brian Kennedy at a home in Falls Church. The federal indictment against him detailed his marijuana use for the past 10 years and stated that, "as an unlawful user of a controlled substance, [he's] prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms and ammunition."
According to the indictment, Brian Kennedy illegally possessed 20 firearms, including several bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, plus a large variety of handguns.
The indictment further stated that, when his son Michael opened fire on the police, May 8, 2006, he was in unlawful possession of seven of his father's weapons, plus their ammunition. These weapons were an AK-47 assault rifle, four .22-caliber revolvers, a .38-caliber Special Taurus and a Springfield 30.06-caliber, bolt-action rifle.
In fact, weapons were everywhere in the Kennedy home; the inventory list of items seized by police is 10 pages long. Under the mattress in the master bedroom were a Colt 9 mm handgun with one round in the chamber and a leather sheath containing a 9-inch knife. On the nightstand were a bayonet plus high-velocity ammunition for a Remington, semi-automatic shotgun.
A SMITH & WESSON knife was under the left, loveseat cushion in the living room, and both a 12-gauge shotgun and a 22-caliber long rifle stood in the corner of the hallway to the basement. An M80 explosive was tucked inside a kitchen cabinet to the right of the stove, and an Atlanta Sharptec knife was stored in the ceiling above the utility-room door.
In a statement of facts filed Tuesday with his plea agreement, Brian Kennedy admitted to having used marijuana for the past decade and to having unlawfully possessed, on May 8, 2006, 20 firearms and some 2,500 rounds of ammunition in his home. He also acknowledged using and storing marijuana at his home, as well as using it there with his son and his son's friends.
U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris accepted Kennedy's plea and set sentencing for Oct. 26. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Trump and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Fitzpatrick — who was previous an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney in Fairfax County — are prosecuting the case.
Afterward, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-37th), who was a close friend of Garbarino's, said he was glad Kennedy pleaded guilty.
"To the extent that this helps bring some closure to this whole thing for the families, that's good," said Cuccinelli. "That's what I see as the greatest benefit. There's a whole community that suffered from this, in addition to the cost to the two families — which they'll have to bear for the rest of their lives."
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said Kennedy's plea brings "a little bit of relief" since it now appears that he'll be spending some time in prison. It's also an acknowledgment on Kennedy's part that he takes responsibility for helping set in motion the terrible events that transpired at the Sully District Station.
Actually, said Frey, "I think a part of me wishes he went to trial and got convicted and got lots more [time behind bars]. But I think our police, the feds and the U.S. Attorney's Office did a tremendous job. They did the best they could and I'll accept their judgment."
Frey also considers it "sort of ironic" that Kennedy pleaded guilty on Aug. 7, National Night Out, which is dedicated to "bringing the members of the community together to protect themselves. Now, we're sending to prison someone from our own community who didn't play by the rules."