Letter: Do Fairfax County Police Act with Impunity?

Letter: Do Fairfax County Police Act with Impunity?

Fifteen months, after the shooting of John Geer, no officer has been identified, no charges have been filed, no grand jury has been convened and no reason has been given to the family or the public.

I would like to begin by saying that I have always and still do support the police as a whole. I appreciate the job that they do and the risks they take on a daily basis in an effort to keep the public safe. The ongoing policy in Fairfax County of police self-investigation, when officers are involved in possible crimes, has to change.

I am willing to bet that all of you have heard of Michael Brown and Ferguson Missouri? How many of you have heard of John Geer? Probably not near as many. I would like to share a story about another life taken by police. It happened right here in Fairfax County over 15 months ago.

On Aug. 29, 2013 I witnessed the homicide of my best friend of over 25 years by a still unidentified Fairfax County police officer. Late that morning John had found out that his partner of 24 years and mother of his two children was moving out. John became distraught and began to throw some of her property in the front yard. One of John’s daughters called their mom and she immediately came home from work. After a heated discussion the police were called. John kissed his daughters and sent them to a neighbor’s house. Nobody was in the home with John when police arrived. I arrived shortly after the police to find several officers on the scene. Two officers were holding John at gunpoint as he stood in the doorway of his home talking calmly with his empty hands resting on top of the storm door. John, feeling he had committed no crime, refused the officers’ orders to come outside. The police were told that John owned firearms and reportedly he had expressed a willingness to use those firearms if the police tried to enter his home without a warrant. After around 40 minutes of what appeared to be calm conversation, John began to lower his hands almost deliberately slow, with his clearly empty palms pressed against the screen. I thought for a second that this confrontation was ending and John was coming out of the home. When John’s empty hands were about even with his face, he was shot once in the chest from less than 20 feet. John had made no quick or aggressive moves of any kind and appeared to be no threat to police, to others or to himself. John quickly hunched over, grabbed his wound and retreated into the house. He pushed the door shut as he retreated and immediately collapsed on the floor less than 5 feet from the door.

This tragedy only gets worse. John lay just inside the door reportedly yelling for help. Despite his pleas for help, the officers on scene stood outside and did nothing while waiting for SWAT to arrive. The SWAT team entered an hour later to find that John had bled to death. It should be noted that the patrol officers on the scene had an entry shield and could have entered the house to rescue John with minimal risk yet chose to do nothing.

After 15 months, no officer has been identified, no charges have been filed, no grand jury has been convened and no reason has been given to the family or the public. In fact the Fairfax County Police Department, up until a recent legal action filed by the Federal Justice Department, had refused to provide requested information to anyone including the Virginia State Attorney. The attorneys for the Geer family have filed 127 requests for documents and in response, 122 objections have been filed by the county. Despite the incredible lack of cooperation from the Police Department, local county officials, the State Attorney General and the Governor have remained silent. It took over one year for Fairfax County supervisors to write a gently worded letter requesting that the case be resolved.

The case was turned over to federal prosecutors last January. The FBI conducted interviews in March. Still, no information has been released to the public and no resolution has been achieved. It has taken recent involvement from U.S. Sen. Grassley of the Senate Judicial Committee and legal action by Federal prosecutors to get the Fairfax County Police Department to only recently provide the requested information, information that should have been made public a year ago. It would appear that this police department does not feel compelled to answer to any Virginia or federal official. This has to change. The family, friends and the public have yet to be told anything about John’s death.

When possible crimes have been committed by police officers such as police shootings, nobody investigates the case but the police. There are no independent oversight procedures of any kind. Fairfax County supervisors endorse this policy and along with the Police Department, have rejected every attempt to create any kind of independent oversight procedures. It should be noted that the Fairfax County supervisors hire the police chief. They also control the money dedicated to the department.

This policy of self-investigation, no oversight and the inevitable obstruction that occurs as a result will continue until the public demands better from its elected officials.

To date, no officer in the 75-year history of the Fairfax County Police Department has ever been charged in a wrongful shooting. These include the deaths of John Geer and at least two other unarmed citizens since 2006, all shot by police under questionable circumstances.

Jeff Stewart, a Chantilly resident, witnessed the shooting of his friend John Geer on Aug. 29, 2013.