- August 29, 2013 John Geer, an unarmed Springfield resident, was shot and killed by a Fairfax County Police Officer, as he stood with his empty hands held up above his head in the doorway of his own home
- February 6, 2014 The Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney refers the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office after the FCPD refused to provide access to documents required for the investigation
- September 2, 2014 Geer’s longtime partner, Maura Harrington, files a civil lawsuit asking for $12 million in damages for Geer’s two teenage daughters, and access to documents related to investigation
- November 13 & December 16, 2014 Senator Charles Grassley sends letters to FCPD Chief Ed Roessler, Jr., The U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney seeking basic answers about the case that the county had been stonewalling on for more than a year
- December 22, 2014 The Judge presiding over the civil lawsuit orders Fairfax County to release documents pertaining to the investigation within 30 days
- January 8, 2015 The Justice for John Geer Group and Northern Virginia Cop Block hold a protest in front of FCPD Headquarters
- January 30, 2015 After waiting until the 30th day to release investigation documents to John Geer’s family, Fairfax County posts 11,000 documents to its website for public review
Members of the Justice for John Geer Group and Northern Virginia Cop Block attended Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland’s Annual Town Hall Meeting on Saturday morning to get information on Fairfax County’s plans for 2015 regarding the John Geer case and police accountability. This meeting was an excellent opportunity to publicly pressure key government officials since Hyland chairs the Public Safety Committee and because the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bulova, and County Executive Edward Long, Jr. would also be attending and giving remarks.
Here are some of the things we learned from today’s action at Mount Vernon:
1. This is not going away
Two residents made substantive comments pushing for independent review, and taking the supervisors to task for their inaction, obfuscation, and failure to take responsibility. Both comments were met with enthusiastic applause from the audience and were widely covered by local media. In addition, multiple other members inquired about the case and how they could get involved in the effort to make police accountability a reality in Fairfax County. It’s clear that this case has galvanized the community to such a great extent that it is now impossible for the Board of Supervisors to wait until it just “blows over.” If they don’t take decisive and responsive action, the thing that blows over just might be their political careers.
2. Fairfax County Government Needs to Adjust its Priorities
Fairfax playing host to the 2015 World Police and Fire Games is a major priority for Fairfax County leadership, but the same cannot be said for the John Geer case or addressing police transparency and accountability issues. They devoted a substantial amount of time to the games, but did not mention anything related to criminal justice in their remarks about 2015 priorities for the county. If residents in the audience had not brought up the subject, there would have been no mention of it at all. The message is clear: There’s no justice in Fairfax County, there’s only just us.
3. Gaslighting is No Longer an Effective Strategy
Chairman Bulova and Supervisor Hyland believe that they can mollify demands for independent oversight and review of the Fairfax County Police Department by pretending that this is only a matter of releasing information in a “more timely manner”. The stonewalling evident in the John Geer case is merely a symptom of a deep-seated malaise in county government: the complete unwillingness to provide effective oversight of the police department. Use of force practices need to be revised and enforced, unstable and unfit police officers need to be removed, and an independent citizen review board must be put in place.
They also think the public has collective amnesia about previous cases where unarmed men were shot and killed by Fairfax County Police officers, insisting that this is the first time “this has happened,” specifically referring to how long they went without releasing information. The FCPD has habitually abused the FOIA law enforcement exemption to deny requests for investigation documents about the citizens they have killed without justification:
- In a 2013 letter to Chairman Bulova about his son, David Masters, who was shot in the back and killed by a Fairfax County Police Officer in 2009, Barrie P. Masters wrote, “A report of the police investigation into my son’s death has never been released; although, clearly misconduct did take place. Otherwise, why was the officer who shot my son in the back, without any provocation, fired from the police force?”
- Hailu Brook was shot and killed by the FCPD in 2008 and according to a 2011 report from the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, Brook’s father “was still waiting for the opportunity to meet with County police and learn why he can’t see their report, view any videos made from police cruisers or the bank and why his son was struck, as Ambassador Brook contends the autopsy indicated, multiple times in the back.”
4. No One Exercises Any Authority Over the FCPD
We were able to get Supervisor Hyland to confirm that the Public Safety Committee did not meet at all during 2014. When asked why not, Hyland said that the committee has no role in on-going criminal investigations. What role, exactly, do they have in anything if they had no need whatsoever to meet for an entire year?
The role played by County Executive Long is also a mystery. He did not address any aspects of police accountability, just as he has not in the previous 17 months since Mr. Geer was shot and killed. Together with the Deputy County Executive for Public Safety, David Rohrer, he represents the direct chain of command for the FCPD Chief, yet neither Long, Rohrer, nor the Public Safety Committee appear to wield any actual authority over the department.
5. FCPD Officers Are Not Clear on the Concepts of Free Speech and Public Property
The meeting had a heavy police presence, both outside and inside the building. As we were leaving, we discovered Lieutenant Martin telling a man that he was not allowed to protest on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the high school, and that he and the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent had designated the island in the middle of the road as the “free speech zone,” essentially telling anyone who wanted to protest to “go play in traffic.” When asked for an explanation, the officer stated that the school was FCPS property, not public property. Apparently the ‘Public’ in Fairfax County Public Schools means something different.
6. 2015 Represents a Real Opportunity for Change on the Board of Supervisors
Both Supervisor Hyland and Supervisor Michael Frey are retiring at the end of 2015. This is also an election year for the Board of Supervisors, so all of their seats are in play. Fairfax County has the opportunity to elect accountability-minded candidates who will no longer sit idly by as unfit officers run amok in the community.
During her opening comments at the meeting, Chairman Bulova spoke about how she and Supervisor Hyland had both begun serving on the Board of Supervisors in 1987. Perhaps 28 years is plenty long enough for her to serve as well.
Read the John Geer documents
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