Fairfax Officer Kills Robbery Suspect
Thursday, December 14, 2006
A Fairfax County police officer shot and killed a bank robbery suspect in the Hybla Valley area yesterday, after the man made "furtive gestures" toward a group of officers who had followed him into an apartment building and cornered him, police said.
Police would not say whether the man was armed, but they believe he might have committed several other robberies along the Route 1 corridor in the southern part of the county.
The man's name and age were not released yesterday. He is the third civilian shot and killed by Fairfax police this year. The other two shootings -- Salvatore J. Culosi was accidentally shot by a SWAT officer during an arrest in January, and Michael W. Kennedy was killed after he had fatally wounded two Fairfax officers -- were ruled justifiable by the Fairfax prosecutor.
Police did not release the name of the officer involved. Four law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said the shooter was Maj. Michael LoMonaco, 50, a widely respected 27-year veteran with extensive experience in tactical operations. He heads the department's operations support bureau, which oversees the special operations, traffic, helicopter and emergency management divisions.
LoMonaco declined to comment last night.
The series of events started with a robbery at the Wachovia Bank branch at 7706 Richmond Hwy. (Route 1) about 9:45 a.m. Police said a man passed a note to a teller demanding cash, was given an undisclosed amount of money and fled on foot. No gun was displayed.
A description of the robber was broadcast on police radios, and several minutes later an officer saw a man matching the description in the 7500 block of Richmond Highway. The officer tried to stop the man, but he dashed through the parking lot of a car dealership, jumped on top of a row of sport-utility vehicles and vaulted over a brick wall topped by three strands of barbed wire, witnesses said.
He landed in a parking lot in front of a three-story brick garden apartment building. Another officer saw him run into the building, at 7417 Fordson Rd., according to a police spokeswoman, Officer Camille S. Neville.
Neighbors said officers flooded the area, ordering them back into their apartments while they searched for the suspect. A police dog was used to help locate the man, Lt. Richard Perez said.
The man apparently went down the stairs, spun to his right and crawled into a hole in the wall beneath the front stairwell, police said. "The officers ordered him to come out of the crawl space several times," Neville said.
The man "refused several commands to come out," Neville said. "He also made several furtive gestures," she said, declining to be more specific.
Several officers were present, but only one fired, Neville said. The man was pulled from the crawl space and taken to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Regalado Matas, a resident who was in the building, said he heard but did not see the action. "They brought a dog," he said. "The dog's the one that discovered the bad guy. . . . I heard [an officer] say, 'Drop the gun,' then bang bang."
Police declined to say whether the man had the money or the demand note from the robbery. But Neville said, "We do believe strongly that this was the suspect from the earlier robbery today." One source familiar with the investigation said that the dead man had been identified by the teller who was robbed.
Two similar holdups, involving a suspect passing a demand note without showing a gun, occurred at the Bank of America branch at 6300 Richmond Hwy., on Dec. 1 and Dec. 6. Police are investigating whether yesterday's suspect committed those crimes.
Fairfax officials said that the three fatal shootings in one year were more coincidence than a reflection on the police. "The fact that somebody would get shot in the course of a robbery pursuit, these things happen," said Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. "I don't think any of our cases indicate that our police department is the least bit overeager on the trigger. It's one of the best-trained police departments in the country."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said that he did not have details of the shooting but that "this is a rare event. We'd like it to never happen. But we're a big place, and we're the safest jurisdiction in the U.S. This community supports its police. We saw that in the outpouring of support after May 8," when Kennedy fatally wounded Detective Vicky O. Armel and Officer Michael Garbarino outside the Sully District police station.
LoMonaco has been a candidate for police chief, and he oversaw Fairfax's emergency center during the 2002 sniper shootings. In 1986, as a sergeant in the tactical squad, he and another officer shot and killed a mentally ill man after a 10 1/2 -hour standoff in which the man repeatedly fired at police and wounded LoMonaco and the other officer as they tried to remove him from his apartment.