Fairfax County officials said yesterday they will sue the D.C. Department of Corrections in an effort to force the closing of the practice firing range at the Lorton prison facility because citizens who live near the range have complained that their houses have been hit by stray bullets.
The threat to sue is the latest development in a continuing election-year feud between the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and D.C. prison officials over the city's sprawling prison complex set within Fairfax County's borders.
County officials said they will seek a temporary injunction against the D.C. Corrections Department even though corrections Director James F. Palmer sent them a letter yesterday promising not to use the range until next Monday. Palmer said the temporary ban on the range would give officials time to study the site and recommend changes.
"They said that before and they kept on shooting and bullets kept landing," said County Board Chairman John F. Herrity. "We don't believe them."
Some residents of the Newington Forest subdivision complained recently that they were discovering .45-caliber bullets lodged in their garages, house siding and shrubbery. Some of the houses are about 2,800 feet from the firing range, county officials said.
"The people there are very concerned--they're frightened," said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth, who met with D. C. Mayor Marion Barry over issues involving Lorton in late February. Duckworth said the mayor told her then that he would order a halt to use of the firing range.
"I don't know if there was a misunderstanding in communications or what," Palmer said yesterday. "But I will see that this temporary ban is enforced now."
A Fairfax County police investigation showed that the bullets recovered from Newington Forest homes probably were fired during military SWAT team drills at the Lorton firing range.
Palmer said he has restricted the use of the range to corrections department training drills.
"It's a very safe range," Palmer said. "This could not happen during our drills. . . because we use flat-headed bullets" that cannot travel as far as the military .45-caliber bullets.