By: Lorelei McFly
Christmas came a few days early for the many people seeking answers in the death of 46-year-old John Geer. On Monday, the Fairfax County Police Department was ordered to release information about why the unarmed man was shot and killed by one of its officers on August 29, 2013.
What is already known is that police officers were dispatched to Geer’s townhouse in Springfield, Virginia, after his partner, Maura Harrington, called 911 reporting that he was throwing her belongings out of their residence. After 24 years and two daughters, Harrington was moving out, and Geer was understandably upset at the prospect. Harrington says, “He needed help. He didn’t need the situation worse by having guns pointed at him.” She also denies reports that he had been drinking that day.
After the police arrived, Geer stood behind the storm door of his house, speaking with the officers for 50 minutes. Geer’s father and best friend, Jeff Stewart, were both on the scene during the incident. According to Stewart, Geer spoke calmly with the officers, saying ‘I’m not coming out, you’re not coming in.’ Harrington added, “He told them he didn’t have to come out. He has every right to stay in his own house, and they’re not welcome to come in.”
What is not known is why four police officers continued to keep their guns drawn and trained on an unarmed man who was alone in his house and had no history of violence, for the entire 50 minutes that they chatted with him, and why one of them shot him without provocation. Stewart recounts what he saw happen that day, “He’s got his hands on the top of the storm door, and it’s open about six inches. All of a sudden he starts lowering his hands. His hands move down the door, level with his face, and the cops shot him once in the chest.”
Geer closed the door as he spun around. He didn’t make it more than a few feet into the house before collapsing and bleeding to death from the wound. Stewart and Harrington pleaded with officers to give Geer medical assistance, but no one attempted to render aid for an hour after the shooting. When the SWAT team finally breached the door with an MRAP at 4:30 PM, they found Geer’s body lying behind it.
As Geer’s loved ones coped with their grief and the horrific aftermath of that fateful 911 call, they remained hopeful that Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler would stand by his promise to “hold himself accountable” in investigating the shooting. As the wait for answers stretched into a year, it eventually became clear that Roessler, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors he reports to, would need outside pressure before that promise would be honored. “It’s been hell,” said Don Geer, John Geer’s father. “Frustrating to say the least — not knowing anything and having a feeling of helplessness, sadness, anger. Just wondering what’s going on and why nobody would tell us anything.”
In September, Geer’s partner filed a lawsuit on behalf their of two teenaged daughters. The lawsuit seeks to gain release of information that Fairfax County has refused to provide for nearly a year and a half, and specifically names Chief Roessler for “utter failure to properly train and supervise the officers who were on the scene.”
Meanwhile, public outrage over the case was slow to form, but has quickly coalesced into a movement following recent developments. More than a year later, many Fairfax County residents are still unaware of the case because the shooting was initially reported as a barricade situation with an armed man, and few local news outlets have consistently provided updates since the story first broke. The tireless reporting of the Washington Post’s Tom Jackman has been a notable exception. His continued reporting brought the case to the attention of Northern Virginia Cop Block, a regional offshoot of Nathan Cox’s Virginia Cop Block.
Mike Curtis, founder of Northern Virginia Cop Block and spokesperson for the Justice for John Geer Facebook group states that even though valuable information is expected to be released about the case late next month, the group is still moving forward with a January 8th protest outside of the Fairfax police headquarters. He elaborated on the group’s goals in an interview on Monday: “While the judge’s order is a step in the right direction, a court order does not equate to transparency and while we may soon know the name of the officer who shot this unarmed and law abiding father of two, we all know how unlikely justice is to come from agents of the state investigating themselves. We need to demand civilian oversight and independent investigators at the least.”
In 2011, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors rejected the request to institute a civilian review board. Community members had been pushing for greater accountability in the wake of a series of unarmed men being shot and killed by Fairfax police officers. Two high profile cases were 36-year-old optometrist Salvatore Culosi, who was killed in 2006 by what was described in official reports as an accidental gun discharge when a SWAT team was inexplicably dispatched to serve an arrest warrant for betting on college sports, and David Masters, a 52-year old veteran, who was fatally shot during a 2009 traffic stop when an officer mistakenly thought Masters reached for a gun.
The Board of Supervisors dismissed the proposal for a review board saying, “There is no strong evidence that a citizen review board provides additional value to a review process, however, this remains an option, if over the long term there is dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the proposed auditor model. Public review boards have the same issues as any publicly appointed group and the ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ of the appropriateness of a review.” Four years later and the county is faced with another unnecessary death, a police department that still prioritizes protecting itself over the public it serves, and elected officials who pretended to be unable to move the case forward, when reports show they actually refused to get involved.
Justice for John Geer and Northern Virginia Cop Block refuse to let Fairfax County officials continue to play business as usual when residents’ lives are at stake. The time is now for a civilian review board in Fairfax County.
Join the group to get updates about the case and help bring police accountability to Fairfax County: https://www.facebook.com/groups/justiceforjohngeer/
Info about the protest is at: https://www.facebook.com/events/725715987504810/