3 Fairfax Officers Sued for Assault
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
A Fairfax County planning commissioner and longtime community fixture has filed a federal lawsuit against three Fairfax police officers for allegedly assaulting him at the Sully District station, then handcuffing and humiliating him inside Sully Supervisor Michael R. Frey's office.
Ronald W. Koch, 62, has been a planning commissioner in Fairfax for 21 years, once chaired the county's land-use committee and has been honored for his civic and volunteer work. He is a retired computer specialist who worked for the Defense and Justice departments, and he was supplementing his retirement income by working as a process server, delivering subpoenas and other legal documents.
Koch was making a routine subpoena delivery to the Sully station about two years ago when he was confronted by the three Fairfax officers. The officers surrounded him, and one then lowered his shoulder and rammed Koch in the chest, he said. Then, when Koch went into Frey's office, they roughed him up and handcuffed him, according to his lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial next month. They then accused Koch of being disruptive and assaulting them, according to court records filed as part of the suit.
The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, alleges unnecessary use of force, assault and battery, false arrest and defamation. Lt. Lance Schaible, Lt. Michael Grinnan and Officer Sean Cheetham are named as defendants. Police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said the department could not comment on pending litigation. The officers' attorney, David J. Fudala, did not return phone calls, and the officers did not respond to e-mails seeking comment. In court papers, Fudala denies the allegations. A police internal affairs investigation found no wrongdoing.
Koch said he did not want to sue the police. But the department, the commonwealth's attorney, the Board of Supervisors and a magistrate disregarded his complaint, and he got angry, he said.
"The system doesn't work," Koch said. "I don't think the police are capable of policing themselves. When a barrel goes bad, it starts at the top. Obviously, these officers have no fear of discipline from higher up."
Koch said he had hoped that a meeting with Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer and County Executive Anthony H. Griffin would result in an apology and a reprimand. But the county was unbending, according to Koch and his attorney, Jack L. Gould.
"I asked the chief if he had anything to say to Mr. Koch," Gould recalled. "Chief Rohrer looked at me and said, 'I have nothing to say to him.' "
According to Koch's suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, the incident occurred July 27, 2005. Koch said he asked for and met a police sergeant, handed him the subpoena, then turned and headed for the door. He said he knew almost nothing about the subpoena or its contents.
Schaible, 37, intercepted Koch as he was almost out of the station, the suit says. Schaible retrieved the subpoena and handed it back to Koch, saying the police would not accept it. Koch told Schaible he was acting as an officer of the court. A surveillance photo shows the two men pointing fingers at each other.
Koch's suit said Grinnan and Cheetham surrounded him while Schaible asked him questions about the subpoena. When Koch tried to leave, the suit alleges, Schaible darted in front of him, lowered his shoulder and drove it into Koch's chest, knocking him backward.
Frey's district office is also in the station, and Koch is the planning commissioner for Frey's district. Koch said he walked into the reception area of Frey's office, told a secretary he had just been battered by Schaible and asked for the police chief's phone number. Then the three officers walked in, according to the suit.
The officers backed him into a corner, and Schaible said he wanted to ask him more questions, the suit says. Koch said he was going to leave, and Schaible said, "Cuff him." Koch said Grinnan, 38, and Cheetham, 36, spun him around roughly and clamped handcuffs on him.
Koch said Frey then came out of his office and asked what was happening. He said that Schaible and Grinnan went into Frey's office, leaving Koch handcuffed in the outer office, and that the officers told Frey that Koch had been disorderly and had pushed Schaible while trying to serve papers.
Frey and the two officers came out of the supervisor's office and allowed Koch to leave once they photocopied his driver's license, the suit sys.
Koch filed the suit in July 2006. Fudala's response, filed in court, acknowledges the general sequence of events but denies any mistreatment of Koch by the officers.
Frey (R) did not return calls seeking comment, and he probably will be a witness in the trial. Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he had no firsthand knowledge of the incident but thought Koch was "a professional and caring member of the planning commission, committed to his community."
Koch said he will not accept reappointment to his planning commission post in January because of the incident. "After the trial, I'd feel uncomfortable continuing to serve the county," he said. He also has stopped working as a process server because he feels nervous around Fairfax police, who are sometimes called when he delivers court papers.
Last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution commending Koch for his volunteer work as a van driver for low-income families, a teacher of parenting classes in the county jail and a mentor for three at-risk youths, along with his work in various civic groups and the planning commission. He is married and has four grown children.