A Fairfax County judge on Friday ordered county police to release their internal affairs reports in the 2013 fatal police shooting of a Springfield man and to continue to turn over such reports even as the internal investigation continues.
Judge Randy I. Bellows made the decision in the civil suit filed by the family of John B. Geer, who was shot as he stood unarmed in the doorway of his townhouse by a county police officer. No decision has been made on whether to charge the officer, Adam D. Torres, who remains on paid administrative duty.
Bellows required county police to turn over only its factual reports in the shooting to Geer’s family attorneys, not materials showing internal deliberations or discipline. The police did not launch an internal investigation until September, after Geer’s longtime partner, Maura Harrington, filed suit against Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Torres and the department on behalf of the couple’s two teenage daughters.
But in addition to reports on the Geer shooting, Bellows also ordered Fairfax police to provide its entire internal affairs file about an outburst Torres directed at a county prosecutor in the Fairfax courthouse in March 2013. Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh had been seeking that file during his criminal investigation in late 2013 but was told by Fairfax police that he could not have it.
Documents released last week by the county show that the prosecutor was exploring whether Torres had “anger issues,” in part because he loudly cursed at one of Morrogh’s assistants outside traffic court. But Roessler, on the advice of the county’s attorney, refused to give Morrogh any of Torres’s internal affairs files.
In January 2014, Morrogh referred the case to the U.S. attorney in Alexandria, and the Justice Department has said it successfully obtained “withheld files” from Fairfax. But the case has remained under consideration by the Civil Rights Division without a decision on charging the officer.
Also Friday, a Fairfax supervisor said the Board of Supervisors was not told by the county attorney that police were refusing to provide the county prosecutor with such files or that the case would be given to the Justice Department. Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said the board should have known earlier about the stalemate with Morrogh’s office, which might have avoided the long delay in sharing details. The officer’s name and details of the shooting were not released until last month, about 17 months after the incident.
“We were never given a very clear indication of what our options are when there is that kind of disagreement with the commonwealth attorney,” McKay said. “On a case where someone was shot and killed, I think you’d want to get the pulse of the board before the commonwealth attorney kicked [the case] somewhere else,” McKay said.
Meanwhile, the civil lawsuit continues, with Bellows ordering in December that the police provide Geer’s family with extensive investigative files concerning the shooting. Those files revealed that Torres told investigators that he saw Geer lower his hands toward his waist and thought Geer might be reaching for a gun.
Three other officers standing close to Torres, a lieutenant a short distance away and two civilian witnesses said that Geer’s hands were about at face level when Torres shot him once in the chest after a 42-minute standoff. Officers were at the house trying to resolve a dispute between Geer and Harrington, who had called 911 after Geer had thrown her belongings onto their front lawn.
After Friday’s hearing, Bernard J. DiMuro, one of the Geer family’s attorneys, said: “There comes a point where the protection for a government investigation has to step aside for the public interest and public knowledge. And the judge decided in this case, that point has been reached.”
Fairfax’s lawyers argued that providing the Geer attorneys with reports while the internal investigation continued would damage the probe. Bellows said he was “not persuaded at all” that Roessler would “be chilled from addressing the grave issues of an officer-involved shooting.”
Fairfax Assistant County Attorney Karen L. Gibbons asked for a protective order to keep the material from becoming public. Bellows declined, saying the Justice Department could make such a request if it felt the need to protect its ongoing case. He gave Fairfax two weeks to produce the files in both the Geer and courthouse outburst case.
Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.