Of the seven eyewitness accounts of the shooting death of John Geer, only one describes Geer quickly bringing his hands down to his waist. That was the perspective of PFC Adam Torres, the officer who shot Geer in the chest, killing him in the doorway of his home on Aug. 29, 2013.
Torres’ account appears in several of the approximately 11,000 pages of discovery from the Fairfax County Police Department investigation released to the public by Fairfax County on Jan. 30, about 17 months after the shooting. The release also contains more than 50 audio files and five videos related to the incident.
The six other eyewitnesses included four different police officers, John Geer’s father Don Geer and friend Jeff Stewart. Their stories in the investigation documents all describe a similar scene: Geer had been standing in his doorway, hands resting on the frame, speaking calmly with officer Rodney Barnes for about 40 minutes before he was shot.
“I’m comforted the officers at the scene support what I saw,” said Stewart.
The detective who interviewed Barnes noted him referencing Geer as saying “he did not want to get shot and did not want anyone else to get shot.” Barnes also said that before he arrived, he was told Geer had threatened the officers, but he himself “did not hear any verbal threats while he was on the scene.”
Barnes described Geer as periodically asking permission to lower his hands to scratch his nose, as well as Geer asking for Torres to lower his gun. Each of the other officers had guns down and in cover position, while Torres held his raised and pointed at Geer.
Torres recounts seeing Geer quickly lower his hands to waist level, a threat provoking him to fire. The other accounts describe Geer’s hands at either shoulder or ear level.
“Finally shooting him for scratching his nose,” said Stewart. “Four other officers support that testimony, support that John was not a threat.”
Stewart and Michael Lieberman, the lawyer representing the Geer family and Geer’s longtime partner Maura Harrington in a civil suit against the county, have keyed into additional commentary in the reports that describe Torres as having just finished an argument with his wife before arriving at Geer’s house.
Further pages reference an incident on March 5, 2013, in which officer Torres had a “meltdown” and outburst with Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles Peters in a courtroom. That incident became the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation by the FCPD, the results of which were not included in the discovery materials.
In his interview for the investigation, Peters referenced that internal affairs file being sought by Commonwealth Attorney Raymond F Morrogh while his office was still working on the case. FCPD refused to cooperate, Peters said.
Some have called that type of action in this case “stonewalling” by Fairfax County, including the police department and the governing body they answer to, the Board of Supervisors.
Jerry Santos, another friend of Geer’s, said, “At this point, while Torres’ past and his management or mismanagement remain relevant and important, it’s all overcome by the cover-up by the board’s and chief’s and county attorney’s arrogance and frankly foolishness in the manner in which they’ve conducted themselves in the matter of the killing of John Geer.”
ONE DAY AFTER the county posted the files on its website, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova and Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland fielded questions about the Geer case at the Mount Vernon Town Hall Meeting.
Bulova held the position that this case presented unprecedented circumstances.
“Our policies have not fit with this particular scenario,” Bulova said. “Do we get it? Absolutely.”
Hyland responded in calm and paced phrasing. “I questioned immediately whether the force that killed him was appropriate,” he said. “Now everyone pretty much knows what happened. Obviously people have questioned whether it was just. This never takes that long with a typical case and the frustration has been awful for us.”
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) followed the release with a statement saying: “It is a shame we are where we are,” and that the latest action by the county was “making up for lost ground on transparency.
“I encourage the public to view this release as what it is,” Herrity continued, “peoples’ honest perceptions of the facts mixed in with hard evidence.”
LIEBERMAN SAID the release is beginning to ease Don Geer’s “torture” of the last 17 months being left in the dark.
“I don’t know how many days he’s been able to sleep through the night,” said Lieberman.
Though he said he was upset at times that nothing was going to happen with his son’s case, Don Geer said the county’s handing over documents, videos and audio is “encouraging.”
“We’re going in the right direction finally; these have been sitting around on somebody’s desk and finally we’re getting some action,” Don Geer said.
Having witnessed the shooting himself, Don Geer was initially concerned “possibly there would be some conflicting stories,” he said.
But the incident report “came out exactly as I saw it,” Don Geer continued. “Fortunately we were all on the same page.” Except for Torres.
Torres’ internal affairs file is the subject of one of three motions Lieberman is planning to bring to court Friday, Feb. 6. “What did the county do in light of the fact Torres had a meltdown in court?” said Lieberman. “Mediation of some sort? Counseling? Did they conclude he was a loose cannon and didn’t do anything about it?”
Lieberman insists the court dates won’t stop there, that even though Morrogh has handed the case to the Department of Justice civil rights division, “I don’t see why the state can’t take another look, say we should bring it to the grand jury or raise some special prosecutor.”
The county’s materials, first produced under court order to the Lieberman, the Geer family and Maura Harrington on Jan. 21, can be found online at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news/2015/geer-case-materials.htm.