Letter: Much To Be Done

Letter: Much To Be Done

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The Commonwealth Attorney of Fairfax County, Ray Morrogh, has lately adopted the role of the school yard bully who disguises his insecurities by picking on those he perceives as weak. In a desperate effort to cover up the fact that recently he has not been up to his job as a prosecuting attorney he resorted to the bully’s tactic in voiding answers to the questions I asked him at the recent Fairfax County Ad Hoc Police Commission session. As reported in the Mount Vernon Gazette, I asked Mr. Morrow why it has taken him over 18 months to finally decide to convene a grand jury to review the facts related to the police shooting of the late John Geer. Mr. Morrogh ignored my questions by responding that I was out of my depth and could not possibly know what I was talking about due to my advanced age. Instead of explaining the reasons behind the 18 month delay in the case, he tried to use my age as a bullying tactic.

The facts are that Mr. Morrogh has many excuses for not prosecuting the case in a timely manner but the primary reason is that he failed to develop ways to successfully work with the police bureaucracy and the elected Board of Supervisors to obtain the facts of the case. His failure of leadership is at the heart of the delay. Mr. Morrogh needs to step back and realize he has the tools to do his job without delay; they are political in nature. If leadership and communication with appointed police department leaders and elected Board of Supervisors is not the answer, then what policy or legislative changes are in order? I am too old, right, to engage you on this highly legal and technical matter? Well, instead of attacking me why not come up with some constructive suggestions.

At this meeting, I also asked Mr. Morrogh why he has not found a single incident of police misconduct in all the years he has served in office even though there have been numerous police-related incidents resulting in the deaths of several residents who were unarmed. At a minimum a violation of the General Order on the use of lethal force was clearly a factor. But no, Mr. Morrogh found no basis of wrongdoing. As a result, the only way families of the victims could obtain justice was to sue the county for wrongful death. Three wrongful death suits were filed in the past several years in which the county paid millions of dollars in out of court settlement awards. There could have been more. If there was no misconduct, as Mr. Morrogh’s inaction suggests, why the out of court settlements? Mr. Morrogh’s actions or inaction makes one question who Mr. Morrogh really represents — certainly not the families of the victims of the alleged police misconduct.

When a suspicious shooting occurs in Fairfax County, Mr. Morrogh should do his job and immediately begin an investigation in an effort to bring about justice in a fair and impartial way. Someone is not cooperating? Go public. The voters elected you to solve problems, not make excuses. Mr. Morrogh can help. We need to feel assured that our law enforcement people are using their authority to use lethal force wisely and judiciously, not abusively. We want to work with and feel confident in the integrity and discipline of our police, not fear them. If Mr. Morrogh did his job well, he would be an essential ingredient in protecting and assuring our community by vigorously investigating police misconduct if and when it occurs.

Therefore, I am asking Mr. Morrogh, again: Why has it taken your office 18 months to finally convene a grand jury to look into the John Geer shooting? What policies or legislation should be introduced to avoid future delays? And while we are on the subject: Why didn’t you find misconduct in the unarmed shooting deaths of the Culosi shooting, the Masters shooting, the McIntosh police car fatality, or several other highly questionable police shooting deaths of unarmed citizens? I may be 87, but I know when a person is doing his job, and unfortunately for all of us right now you are not and you know it. Maybe age and the bad habit of getting in bed with the police is already a problem for you and maybe unless you change your approach and aggressively prosecute wrongdoers it may be time for you to take a much needed early retirement. On the other hand, you have a unique and historic opportunity to look at your office and ask yourself: How can I improve my performance and avoid delays and move forward so that in the future there is no delay in investigation and possible prosecution? Timely action from you office will be a crucial step in improving police-community relations where it counts — investigation of alleged police misconduct.

Having said all that, and getting it off my aging chest, I propose that you and I, the police chief, and all the members of the Ad Hoc Commission move forward and collaborate on recommendations to improve police-community relations, hire skilled and disciplined police recruits, remove police who prove to be inadequate to the job, install body cameras, research the benefits of creating a police civilian oversight board, etc. Let’s get working in the limited time allotted by the Board of Supervisors for the Ad Hoc Commission to come up with with meaningful changes in police policies and practices. After all, I don't have much time.

Nicholas Beltrante

Executive Director

Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Inc.

Retired Washington D.C. police detective sergeant/homicide squad