After 22 years on the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch will step down in December when his current term expires and will not accept another one.
IT'S NOT WHAT he'd planned, and he takes this action sadly and reluctantly. But an incident he was involved in two years ago, at the Sully District Police Station — and his unsuccessful attempt to resolve it — have led him to this point.
It made him lose faith in the police department and file suit against three local officers. And it will culminate next month in a trial in federal court.
In a letter last week to Planning Commission Executive Director Barbara Lippa, Koch wrote: "The discoveries I have made over the past two years have disheartened me and [have] made me ashamed of the very county I have served for over 22 years."
As for the police, spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said she could not address any of the issues in the lawsuit. "The case is in litigation headed to the court, so we don't normally comment at that point," she said.
Koch worked 33 years for the federal government and served 26 years in the Virginia National Guard. And for the past 10 years, he's run a private business serving subpoenas.
It was in that capacity, on July 27, 2005, that he went to the Sully District Police Station in Chantilly. An attorney had told him to serve a request for records to a police supervisor at that station.
ACCORDING TO the lawsuit, Koch served the subpoena to Sgt. Michael Grinnan, who accepted it. Koch thanked him and turned to leave the station. But before he could exit, Lt. Lance Schaible and Pfc. Sean Cheetham approached him.
"Then the lieutenant retrieved it and handed it to me and said they were not accepting it," said Koch by phone. "But I couldn't take it back because it was legally served. I told him I was acting as an officer of the court, serving legal papers."
The suit states that Schaible told Koch that he wanted to ask him some questions. After Koch explained that he wasn't allowed to answer questions about the subpoena, Schaible allegedly insisted that Koch do so.
Koch stated in the suit that, after he told Schaible that he [Schaible] was harassing him, he was reportedly surrounded by Schaible, Grinnan and Cheetham. According to the suit, Schaible allegedly again told Koch they weren't going to accept the subpoena and that Koch "had better answer his questions."
Again, Koch said he couldn't take back the subpoena or answer questions, that he hadn't done anything wrong and he was leaving. As he began walking toward the door, he said Schaible allegedly told him, "You're not going anywhere."
Then, said Koch, "He threw his right shoulder into my chest and wouldn't let me leave. I said, 'I can't believe you just assaulted me,' and he said, 'I never touched you.'"
So Koch went into Supervisor Michael R. Frey's (R-Sully) office, just off the main lobby, and asked Frey's administrative assistant for the phone number of the chief of police so he could report what had just allegedly happened.
She was in the process of giving it to him when, the suit states, the three officers reportedly entered Frey's outer office, approached Koch "in a threatening and intimidating manner and backed [him] into a corner."
When Koch started to leave, the suit states, Schaible told the other offers to "cuff him." Koch said Cheetham allegedly "grabbed my wrist and twirled me around, and I hit the credenza and bounced into the wall. Then they handcuffed me. I asked the officer if I was under arrest, and he said I was in 'investigative custody.'"
THEN FREY APPEARED and asked what was going on, and Schaible and Grinnan spoke with him inside his office, while Cheetham guarded Koch. According to the suit, "Schaible falsely told Frey that [Koch] became 'disorderly' and/or 'disruptive' while [Koch] was attempting to serve legal papers, was 'placed under arrest' for being 'disorderly' and 'pushed' Schnaible" while trying to leave.
Eventually, the police agreed to release Koch if he gave them his driver's license to photocopy, which he did. He then left the building.
The suit states that, because of the alleged actions of the three officers, plus Schaible's alleged statements, Koch suffered physical injuries, as well as "severe emotional distress and psychological damage, shame, humiliation, insult, embarrassment, indignity to his feelings and/or harm to his reputation."
And Koch has had an impeccable reputation — receiving only praise for all his accomplishments. When Commerce Bank in Centre Ridge had its grand opening, April 29, 2006, it honored Koch as a "Hometown Hero." He received $500, which he donated to FACETS (Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services), for which he's volunteered for several years.
He drove the organization's RV — bringing a social worker, nurse, food and clothing to homeless and low-income families. He entertained the homeless children and even played Santa for them.
In choosing a "Hometown Hero," explained bank manager April Dehn, "When I did a survey and asked a whole bunch of people who they see as a hometown hero, Ron Koch's name kept coming up."
In 1982, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Herrity appointed Koch as an at-large planning commissioner, and he served until 1988. In 1992, Frey reappointed him to represent Sully District, and he's held that post ever since.
He's also a charter member of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) and served as past chairman and vice-chairman of its Land-Use Committee. And since 1988, he's chaired the Newgate Forest Homeowners Association.
In 2000, Koch received the WFCCA's award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Service, and he was nominated three times for the Fairfax County Volunteer Service Award. He's also conducted classes for boys in the county Boys Probation Home and taught parenting classes at the county jail and pre-release center.
For the past 10 years, he's mentored three at-risk youth — two are now 18 and one is 17 — from low-income families. And in May, the General Assembly gave him a plaque recognizing his community work and volunteer activities.
AFTER HIS RUN-IN with the police, Koch went to the county magistrate's office to swear out a warrant for their arrest and formally accuse Schaible of assault and battery. "But because they were police officers, they said I needed the officers' birth dates before I could do that," said Koch. "They said I'd have to get that information from [police] Internal Affairs."
When he went there, Koch said, Internal Affairs said it would investigate, "So I never got to swear out a warrant, only file a complaint with Internal Affairs. Months went by and, just before the one-year anniversary of the event, I got two letters from the chief of police [Dave Rohrer] saying the police did nothing wrong."
Koch also discussed the matter with five county supervisors, including the chairman, and visited federal, state and county officials, plus the county attorney. "The only results of my efforts were an attempt by officials of the county police department to discredit me and slander my reputation," wrote Koch in his letter to Lippa.
"After a full year of frustration and disappointment, and having been stonewalled at every turn, I retained an attorney," he continued. Koch noted that his counsel, Jack Gould, normally represents police and public officials; it's only the fourth time he's represented someone opposing them.
Gould initially filed the suit in Circuit Court, but the county had it moved to federal court in Alexandria. In it, Koch accuses the three officers of unnecessary use of force, unnecessary seizure, assault and battery, false imprisonment and conspiracy to punish and discredit him. He also accuses Schaible of defamation.
At first, said Koch, he just wanted "an apology from the police department and an acknowledgment that I did not assault anybody." Now, he's asking a jury to grant him whatever compensatory and punitive damages it deems appropriate, after hearing all the evidence.
"I'm devastated," he said. "What happened July 27, 2005 was bad; but what's transpired over the past two years is even worse. I think, at the trial, it'll be made clear how the system works, and people are going to be shocked. For officers to be so arrogant and act like this, they have to have no fear of discipline from above."
Besides his Planning Commission post, said Koch, another casualty was his process-serving business. He said serving subpoenas can be risky, because recipients are often upset. In the past, if someone threatened him, he called police for back up. But, said Koch, "I had to close down my business because I wouldn't be comfortable calling the police now."
Until this incident, he said he was a strong police supporter. "I used to tell the kids at the probation house that the police were there to help them, and they'd laugh at me," said Koch. "If you'd have told me, two years ago, that something like this could have happened in Fairfax County, I'd have said, 'No way.'"
STILL, HE HASN'T given up hope. Said Koch: "I'm confident I'll prevail in court because of the evidence." However, the police feel the same way about their case.
"We will wait and let the facts come out at trial," said spokeswoman Jennings. "Obviously, a lawsuit represents one side, or one version, of events, and we don't try our cases in the media. We try them in courthouses. That's all I'm going to be able to say."