Mount Vernon The Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Inc. received a qualified “No” from the Fairfax County Police to four FOIA requests the community organization sent last month. A fifth FOIA request to the Arlington County police did provide some FOIA-related information.
The four FOIA letters to the Fairfax County police covered the shooting deaths of four individuals going back six years; all investigations have been completed and all the cases have been closed. Fairfax County police used deadly force in each of these cases in what CCPA Executive Director Nicholas Beltrante characterized as “questionable circumstances” that caused the death of all four. Two were unarmed, a third, according the Arlington police, had a air-soft gun disguised as a real gun, and another deceased individual allegedly was going for the gun while sitting in a car. This latter individual, Randall Leroy Collins, was shot multiple times while sitting in the car.
The CCPA obtained an autopsy report, autopsy photos, and an account from the family that, according to Beltrante, provides compelling evidence that the shooting death in this case should be investigated by an independent authority.
“Unless and until the police case files and related background investigation reports are released we can only speculate about the facts; whether or not police misconduct occurred, and if there is a consistent practice of unnecessary use of deadly force,” said Beltrante. “Did the police use deadly force when a Taser or Beanbag gun would have been adequate? Why was deadly force used at all in those incidents when the suspect was unarmed or was running away and not a threat to the police?”
Letters were sent in June by the CCPA to the Fairfax County police chief, and the Arlington County police chief. The Fairfax County responses were signed by Karen Gibbons, senior assistant county attorney. In the one case in which the suspect was chased into Arlington County and shot by three Fairfax County police officers, the Arlington County police commander responded to the FOIA request with background information. Responses varied depending on the case. The details beyond what the police reported earlier was not made available. In each case the Fairfax County attorney denied the detailed information requested and invoked the “exemption from the mandatory disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 2.2-3706(F)(1).”
The Arlington County police commander, David Bailey, who responded to one of the original FOIA requests, revealed that Hailu Brook, the bank robber suspect, was found to be in possession of “an air-soft replica handgun on which the orange safety tip and orange manufacturers logo had been painted black, giving it the appearance of a real handgun.” The family of the deceased suspect told the CCPA that Brook was shot multiple times, including in the back. The CCPA proceeded to follow up the Arlington County police commander’s first response with an amended FOIA request, sent July 7 with a request for details of the identity of the deceased, a copy of the note handed to a bank employee, etc. The Arlington County police responded to the amended FOIA request by invoking the blanket exemption as provided by the Virginia FOIA. Thus, although some details were revealed by the Arlington police even though their officers were not involved in the shooting, the net result of sending the CCPA letters is no new information of a substantive nature was provided.
“The response to our FOIA letters is not surprising. It is further evidence to the public the degree of secrecy which the local police operate under in Fairfax County,” said Beltrante.
The CCPA lists the following organizations which support their proposal to establish a Fairfax County police citizens oversight board appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and/or organizations who support the CCPA’s position to revise the Virginia FOIA to provide for access to police criminal incident reports:
- NAACP, Fairfax County Branch- Unit 7066
- National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement
- National Black Police Association
- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- ACLU of Virginia
- National Lawyers Guild
- Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Current Lawyers Guild study projects include: Police Accountability Project, and Racial Justice and Immigrant Rights Project.
The Fairfax and Arlington County police refused to provide Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Inc. or the families of the deceased factual information in the form of Police Incident Reports and other investigation information on the following four cases. The basis of the refusal is the blanket exemption provision accorded Virginia police under the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Name of Deceased Date Armed or Unarmed? Case Status
David Masters 2010 Unarmed Closed
Hailu Brook+ 2008 “Armed”* Closed
Randall Leroy Collins+ 2007 Armed Closed
Dr. Salvatore Culosi 2006 Unarmed Closed