What has the Fairfax County Police Department learned in the aftermath of John Geer’s unjustified death? If you read Iraq vet Alex Horton’s article in the Washington Post yesterday, you know the answer is “absolutely nothing.” Of course, this would have also been obvious to anyone paying attention over the past 2 years, but Horton’s experience provides striking evidence that the FCPD is still carelessly aiming weapons on unarmed residents, and sees no issue with doing it.
We learned from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) review of the FCPD’s use of force policy and practices that the first thing new recruits go through at the police academy is firearms training. They apparently don’t bother going over the basic firearm safety rules that you see posted at every civilian gun range:
Here are the facts of the case: Alex Horton was staying in a model unit at his apartment complex because management was repairing a leak in his apartment. When he returned home one night, he accidentally left his door ajar, leading a neighbor to believe a squatter might be in the apartment. The resident then called the police. Horton recounts what happened next:
I didn’t wake up until three police officers barged into my apartment, barking their presence at my door. They sped down the hallway to my bedroom, their service pistols drawn and leveled at me.
It was just past 9 a.m., and I was still under the covers. The only visible target was my head…
…My situation was terrifying. Lying facedown in bed, I knew that any move I made could be viewed as a threat. Instinct told me to get up and protect myself. Training told me that if I did, these officers would shoot me dead.
Horton’s military experience gave him the presence of mind to hold still and calmly respond to orders. Most people roused from sleep by intruders in their home would have bolted from their beds in a panic, and they would be either dead or in the hospital right now, with the county taxpayers subsidizing another multi-million dollar settlement.
Horton went to the police department to complain that the officers improperly trained their guns on him, and didn’t bother to check with the management office before entering, which could have prevented the raid from happening in the first place. He also pointed out that the responding officers made false statements in the report. These complaints fell on deaf ears:
I met the shift commander, Lt. Erik Rhoads. I asked why his officers hadn’t contacted management before they raided the apartment. Why did they classify the incident as a forced entry, when the information they had suggested something innocuous? Why not evaluate the situation before escalating it?
Rhoads defended the procedure, calling the officers’ actions “on point.” It’s not standard to conduct investigations beforehand because that delays the apprehension of suspects, he told me.
Less than 24 hours after Horton’s article appeared, Fairfax County Police Department Chief Ed Roessler issued a statement announcing that he had ordered internal affairs to investigate the incident. Why was there no investigation opened when Hunter raised his concerns at the police station? Why was there no investigation started when FCPD leadership saw the Al Jazeera America report based on Horton’s tweets the day of the incident? We know from the documents released in the John Geer case that FCPD searches and collects news articles about the department.
We also know that FCPD was previously aware that Horton was upset about the raid on his apartment and tweeting about it because of their dismissive responses to his concerns.
So why are they only investigating it now? Because the only thing Fairfax County‘s police department and elected officials respond to is public shaming. We have seen that they certainly aren’t responsive to citizens’ complaints otherwise.
In May, retired Navy pilot Phil Boughton testified about a 2014 encounter he had with inappropriately aggressive FCPD officers who raided his home, pointed guns at him, and even threatened to kill his dog if it so much as barked at him. He sent a letter to Chief Roessler and even went to police headquarters to officially lodge a complaint, but never received a response.
This pattern of FCPD using abusive tactics and then refusing to investigate citizens’ complaints was highlighted in stories presented by several other residents at that May meeting as well. There was the woman who was assaulted in a domestic violence incident, only to have an FCPD officer show up, arrest her, and then falsify the police report; the mother who was intimidated and roughed up when her young son called 911 over having his internet privileges taken away; and the man who detailed his unsuccessful experiences trying to get police abuses investigated, beginning with a 1993 incident where officers trespassed on his property and then lied in court about it.
We have far too many documented instances for the Fairfax County Police Department’s unnecessary, unaccountable, and often lethal aggression to continue to be dismissed as “isolated incidents.” Northern Virginia Cop Block intends to keep up public pressure on the department and elected officials in the county until meaningful changes are implemented.
Join us at our August 4th protest.
This article is the first in the Why We Protest series. Stay tuned for other articles throughout the week.