Correction to This Article
The article about a lawsuit filed by Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Ronald W. Koch incorrectly said that Koch was arrested in front of Supervisor Michael R. Frey. The arrest occurred in Frey's office, but Frey did not witness the arrest.

Fairfax Officers Cleared In Lawsuit

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2007

Three Fairfax County police officers did not violate a planning commissioner's civil rights or harm him after a loud confrontation in the Sully district police station two years ago in which the commissioner said he was assaulted, a federal jury in Alexandria ruled yesterday.

The jury deliberated for about three hours before ruling against Ronald W. Koch, 62, on all counts, which included allegations of assault, battery, false arrest, defamation, unnecessary use of force and conspiracy.

Koch has been the Sully District planning commissioner for 22 years and a highly-praised community leader and volunteer. He was acting as a private process server when he walked into the Sully police station July 27, 2005, to serve a subpoena.

Koch said the officers badgered him and tried to return the subpoena before arresting him in the office of county Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), whose office is at the station. The officers -- Lt. Lance Schaible, Lt. Michael Grinnan and Officer Sean Cheetham -- testified that they did nothing improper, that Schaible was trying to explain police procedure to Koch and that Koch became belligerent and irrational when they approached him.

The officers declined to comment after the verdict was announced. Their attorney, David J. Fudala, said: "It was exactly what I would expect to happen. I've spent the better part of the last year with these men. They're honest, good police officers, and it was apparent to me, and it was obviously apparent to the jury."

Koch said he was disappointed and was unsure whether he would appeal. He said he wasn't surprised by the verdict, because "when I started this two years ago, I was told it would be difficult to get past the blue line. Obviously, that was true."

During the trial, Koch told the jury that he was so upset by the officers' actions and the county's refusal to apologize that he was going to step down from the Planning Commission at the end of the year, had ended his private process-serving business and was moving out of Centreville after 27 years. U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady, presiding over his first jury trial since being appointed to the district bench last month, took the unusual step of imploring Koch to stay in Fairfax.

"I hope you'll reconsider your decision to leave," the judge told Koch after the verdict was announced. "There are too few people like you supporting your community these days. . . . I wish you good luck going forward, sir." The judge also wished the officers well.

Koch is a retired former federal computer specialist who was supplementing his income by serving papers for lawyers. On the afternoon of the incident, he was serving a subpoena addressed to the "Supervisor of Records" at the Sully station, and Grinnan testified that he accepted the subpoena.

But Schaible told Grinnan that police were no longer accepting subpoenas at district stations, and he said he went out to tell Koch. He said Koch refused to speak with him, became loud and frantic, and darted in and out of Frey's office. The three officers testified that Koch shoved Schaible backward into Frey's office, and Schaible then ordered Koch arrested for felony assault on an officer.

Koch testified that after he served the subpoena, Schaible raced out to him and shoved the subpoena at him, saying that police wouldn't accept it. He said that they argued, that Schaible rammed him in the chest with his shoulder and that when Koch fled to Frey's office, the officers followed and handcuffed him.

Frey then spoke with the officers, and Schaible decided to release Koch. No charges were filed.

But Koch sought charges against the officers, filed an internal affairs complaint and sought an apology, all to no avail. He sued in July 2006, and the jury heard three days of testimony, including witness accounts of Koch's volunteer work.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company