The clock keeps ticking, and that’s about the only sound emanating from the investigation into the death of John Geer. Geer, 46, was unarmed when he was shot to death by a Fairfax County police officer on Aug. 29. It has now been seven months and there is still no explanation from the Fairfax police, prosecutors or federal investigators about how and why this happened, and whether or not it was legally justifiable.
Geer was standing in the doorway of his home in Springfield, speaking to an officer who had his service weapon drawn. Geer’s girlfriend and two daughters had fled the home. Geer was distraught, had thrown his girlfriend’s clothes out of the house and had been drinking, witnesses have told The Post, and there was a gun in his townhouse on Pebble Brook Court. But he did not have the gun on him, a fact which was clearly visible as he stood with his hands high on a door frame, dressed in shorts. As Geer stood speaking to the still unnamed officer, the officer fired one shot into Geer’s chest, witnesses told The Post. Geer staggered back into the house and closed the door. Police waited another hour before going in, where they found Geer dead.
The unanswered questions are the same as they were on Aug. 29, as is the silence from Official Fairfax. Why did the police create a “barricade situation” with one man alone in a townhouse? Why did the officer shoot? And why did the police take so long to render aid to a man they knew had been shot in the chest at close range? We can speculate as to the answers, but the taxpayer-funded Fairfax County police and prosecutor absolutely owe clear, definitive answers to the public and to Geer’s family, and it is utterly baffling that this has turned into the most drawn-out police shooting case in Fairfax County history.
Also waiting for an answer is the still-unnamed officer. He has been on desk duty for seven months. Maybe he was perfectly justified in his actions. He also deserves an answer, one way or the other. Once a ruling is issued on criminal charges, the police internal investigation will begin, drawing out his process even further.
In February, at the five-month mark of the investigation, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said he was passing the case to the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, because of a possible conflict of interest. He would not specify the conflict, and said he had not intentionally delayed the case for five months. Of the three previous most notorious police shootings in Fairfax, Morrogh and his predecessor Robert Horan took no more than two-and-a-half months to rule on the criminal liability of a shooting. Each time, they found none.
Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler said in February that he had been in touch with the family and promised accountability. Both he and Morrogh declined to comment Tuesday as the case passed the seven-month mark, as did acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente in Alexandria.
Geer’s family has been notably quiet throughout this seven-month period. Their lawyer, Mike Lieberman of Alexandria, declined to comment Tuesday. In February, after Morrogh announced he was handing the case to the feds, Geer’s father, Don Geer, told The Post: “I don’t know whether that’s good or bad — if I had a better idea of why they are doing it, I could form an opinion.”
Brian Buchner is president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, a large group of local police oversight groups. Of the Fairfax case, Buchner said: “While not typical, there are cases where a prosecutor’s decision in an officer-involved shooting case has taken seven months or longer to make.” Buchner works for the Los Angeles Police Commission’s inspector general, and L.A. has literally dozens of police shootings every year. So he should know.
It is cases like the death of John Geer that led to the formation of the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, in particular the 2009 Fairfax police killing of unarmed motorist David Masters on Route 1 in the Alexandria area. The coalition has continued to press for some sort of formal civilian oversight on police actions, as is done in many other large jurisdictions, including the District. When the police shoot and kill someone, and then remain completely silent for seven months, it’s hard to vouch for the reliability of the current system where the police investigate the police.