Ten months of silence in the Fairfax police shooting death of John Geer

John B. Geer, shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer on Aug. 29, 2013, while he stood in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse. The Fairfax prosecutor has sent the case to federal prosecutors in Alexandria because of possible, unspecified conflicts of interest. (Jeff Stewart) John B. Geer, shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer on Aug. 29, 2013, while he stood in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse. Ten months later, no one has explained why this happened and no ruling has been made on whether the shooting was legally justified.  (Jeff Stewart)

There may be a very good reason why a Fairfax County police officer shot and killed John Geer as he stood in his townhouse doorway on Aug. 29, 2013. Or there may be no reason. But after ten months, the authorities in Northern Virginia still have provided no explanation for why this unarmed citizen was gunned down by an unnamed officer, who remains on paid desk duty.

Geer, 46, had been drinking and there was a gun in his home on Pebble Brook Court in Springfield. The two patrol officers who stood 15 feet away knew this and spoke to him for about 50 minutes, before Geer started to slide his hands down the frame of the doorway from over his head. One of the officers fired once into Geer’s chest, Geer turned, closed the door and collapsed. The police then waited another hour before sending in first-aid for someone who had been shot almost point-blank in the chest. Geer was dead.

We know these things from speaking to witnesses at the scene that day, not from anything Fairfax County police, Fairfax County prosecutors or federal prosecutors have told the public. Because they have told the public nothing. If you or I shot someone, anyone, there would not be a ten month delay in deciding whether or not you or I committed a crime. Or a ten month delay in disclosing what exactly happened that afternoon. The police have not explained why they did not summon a negotiator trained in dealing with distraught people, rather than allowing patrol officers to deal with him, or why they didn’t just back off from a man with no hostages and no indication that he was going to harm anyone else. They also have not explained why they waited an hour to render aid, though presumably that was for concerns for their own safety. Still, we are past the ten month mark of silence.

At the five month mark of silence, Fairfax prosecutor Ray Morrogh booted the case to federal prosecutors, telling me that there was “a potential conflict with one of the witnesses and this office,” and another conflict “concerns some information and I just can’t get it.” He has declined to discuss the case since. Several law enforcement sources have indicated to me that the officer involved in the case may have had undisclosed issues of his own, that Morrogh sought his personnel files and that the police refused to hand it over. Morrogh then turned to the feds to possibly subpoena the file, or determine whether it was even relevant. In addition, the officer who did not fire his weapon while standing next to the shooter may have prior perjury issues, one source said. These issues could possibly explain Morrogh’s comments about a “potential conflict” (the non-shooting officer) and “some information” (the shooter’s personnel files).

Morrogh said last week that he could not discuss the case since he was no longer investigating it. Acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said he could not even confirm the case’s existence. Fairfax County police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said that the FBI was reviewing the case, but had no more information than that.

Two months after Morrogh sent the case to the feds, Geer’s father, girlfriend and close friend Jeff Stewart met with federal prosecutors, FBI agents and a lawyer from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Stewart said they seemed interested but gave no indication of what they might do. This was three months ago.

To recap, Stewart spoke with Geer on the phone before the police arrived, and then watched in horror as the Fairfax officer shot and killed his friend. “If John made any kind of aggressive move,” Stewart said, “I’d have been the first one to testify on the police officer’s behalf. But there was nothing in his [Geer’s] hands, he was not making an aggressive move, he did nothing to provoke a shot being fired. I told them [federal investigators], this was an execution.” He said if investigators try to explain the shooting as a “suicide by cop” by Geer, “that’s a farce.”

Stewart added, “I feel for the cop. He’s probably a good guy. Two good guys who made bad decisions. One’s dead, what about the other one? He’s getting paid, with my money.”

Geer’s family did not want to talk about the case yet, their lawyer Mike Lieberman said. They have reasons for their silence, but the lack of a publicly outraged family has helped enable the powers of Northern Virginia to keep this case below the radar.

The shooting occurred in the Springfield district of Supervisor Pat Herrity (R), who said, “It’s out of our hands, but it’s taking way too long. We really need an answer for the Geers, and for the community.”

There may be a legally acceptable reason for why John Geer, a kitchen contractor and father of two girls, was killed. If the officer thought Geer was reaching for a weapon, by lowering his hands down the frame of his front doorway, that could provide him with the basis of an argument for self-defense, even if the officer was wrong. We learned this in the David Masters shooting in 2009, when Officer David Scott Ziants told investigators he thought Masters was reaching for a gun, though he wasn’t. Ziants also thought Masters was driving a stolen car, which he wasn’t, and that Masters had run over another officer, which he hadn’t. But his state of mind and intent were such that Morrogh felt he could not charge Ziants with manslaughter, and Morrogh ruled the shooting justifiable. The police later fired Ziants.

But that case, with many more variables, was ruled upon in two and a half months, and Morrogh laid out the reasons for his ruling in detail. After five months, Geer’s case was shifted to the feds. After 10 months, we still know nothing. The silence is deafening, and unbelievable.

Previously: Five months after Fairfax police killed John Geer, more delays ahead in resolving case

The death of John Geer: Now seven months of silence on Fairfax police shooting

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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