Anger counselor charged with pulling gun in parking flap

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010

A respected domestic violence and anger management counselor in Fairfax County was arraigned in federal court Thursday after he allegedly pulled a gun on two men who he believed were blocking his car on an Annandale street last week.

The two men were federal marshals.

Jose L. Avila, 57, was ordered held without bond pending a detention hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He has been held in the Fairfax jail since Jan. 25, when he apparently picked the wrong place and time to complain about thoughtless parking.

Avila's attorney, William A. Odio, said Avila had worked for many years at the nonprofit Center for Multicultural Human Services in Falls Church, which merged with Northern Virginia Family Service in 2008.

Avila is a single parent and former priest from Colombia who was highly regarded by judges in the Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Odio said. Judges and lawyers often referred people to Avila for pretrial or probationary counseling, particularly because he is bilingual.

Avila allegedly encountered two deputy U.S. marshals outside an apartment complex on Americana Drive, near Little River Turnpike and the Capital Beltway, at 9 a.m. Jan. 25. In a court affidavit, Deputy Marshal Floriano Whitwell said he and another marshal, Matthew M. Dumas, had been conducting a fugitive investigation and parked their sport-utility vehicles in designated parking places on Americana Drive.

Dumas got out of his vehicle and was standing at the window of Whitwell's vehicle when a white Jeep Cherokee drove up and the driver honked his horn, Whitwell wrote. Dumas, with a marshals service "badge clearly visible hanging from his neck," motioned for the Cherokee to continue past. But then the Cherokee turned around and came back, Whitwell wrote.

The driver appeared to be motioning to Dumas, so the marshal moved closer. Then, Whitwell wrote, Dumas "noticed that Avila was aiming a gun at him. Avila was holding the gun and resting his hand on the top of the door with the driver's window completely open," the affidavit states.

"Gun, gun, gun!" Dumas reportedly yelled to his partner, and Whitwell said he looked up and saw "Avila pointing the dark colored firearm in our direction." Avila drove off, and the marshals pursued him and pulled him over.

The marshals identified themselves and tried to arrest Avila, but he was "uncooperative" and "continued to resist arrest and refused to give me his hand which was under his body," Whitwell wrote. The marshals feared that a gun was beneath Avila, and they used "U.S. Marshals Service defensive tactics to eventually apprehend Avila," Whitwell said.

Found on Avila's seat, Whitwell alleges, was a 9mm Astra A-90 pistol loaded with 14 hollow-point bullets. Once out of his vehicle, Avila reportedly apologized profusely and said he had "never done anything like this before," the affidavit said. When he appeared with the marshals before a Fairfax magistrate, he claimed that he had pointed a cellphone, not a gun, at the marshals, Whitwell wrote.

The magistrate charged Avila with attempted malicious assault, brandishing a firearm, using a firearm in a felony and resisting arrest. Fairfax prosecutors dismissed those charges Wednesday after U.S. Magistrate Ivan D. Davis issued a warrant for assault on a federal officer, and Avila was transferred to federal custody Thursday.

Court records show that Avila has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, issued in 2005. Fairfax prosecutors moved Wednesday to suspend that. State records show that Avila has been a licensed professional counselor since 1994 and a licensed marriage and family therapist since 1998.

Odio said Avila pointed only a cellphone at the men, did not see any badges and did not know they were marshals. "He absolutely denies pointing a gun at them," Odio said. He said Avila was speaking on the phone with his son at the time.

Officials at Northern Virginia Family Service declined to comment.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company