The Fairfax County prosecutor said Wednesday that he will convene a special grand jury to hear evidence, and possibly return an indictment, in the police killing of an unarmed Springfield man in August 2013.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said he had asked the Fairfax Circuit Court to impanel the grand jury with the hope of reaching a decision by the end of the summer in the shooting of John Geer.
Geer, 46, was unarmed when he was shot once in the doorway of his Springfield home by Officer Adam D. Torres, police records show. Torres told investigators that Geer, who had shown police a holstered handgun earlier and placed it at his feet, had made a quick movement to his waist as though he might be reaching for another gun. But three officers nearby, as well as another officer and two civilians a short distance away, all said Geer had his hands near his head and wasn’t reaching toward his waist when he was shot.
On Tuesday, the county agreed to resolve the Geer family’s wrongful-death civil suit and pay Geer’s two teenage daughters $2.95 million. But no ruling has been made, by state or federal prosecutors, on whether Torres should be charged with a crime.
Morrogh said that the timing of his announcement was unrelated to the civil settlement and that he requested the grand jury last week.
“We’ve developed evidence sufficient to lead me to believe that it’s appropriate for the citizens of the county to hear the evidence and decide where the case goes from here,” Morrogh said Wednesday. Unlike standard Fairfax grand juries, which meet monthly and review numerous cases, special grand juries are convened to hear only one case.
Torres, 32, and his attorney, John Carroll, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Michael Lieberman, the attorney for the Geer family, said: “I believe it is appropriate that the shooting death of John is finally being brought before a grand jury, where citizens of Fairfax County can make a decision regarding Officer Torres’s actions.”
Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. issued a statement that his department “is supportive of the decision by the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, and this step to bring the case to a resolution.” Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, said it was “a very welcome development on the part of the Commonwealth Attorney’s office that will, hopefully, bring this case closer to a resolution.”
The Geer case has been marked by the unusually long time prosecutors are taking to decide whether to charge Torres. After Fairfax homicide detectives investigated the Aug. 29, 2013, shooting and presented the case to Morrogh, the prosecutor asked to see Torres’s prior internal-affairs files. Roessler refused the request, so Morrogh referred the case to the Justice Department in January 2014. The Justice Department has not made a decision on whether to file charges, records show, and a spokesman with the agency declined to comment Wednesday.
In February, Justice officials said in a letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that they did not object to Morrogh pursuing a parallel investigation. By then, Morrogh had obtained the internal-affairs files after they were ordered released to Geer’s family in the civil suit.
“Given the tortured history of the case,” Morrogh said, “I want to put witnesses under oath and get their testimony, and I want that done in front of citizens and have citizens ask their own questions. And at the end of the day, we’ll get to the right outcome. . . . I feel bad for the [Geer] family because it’s taken so long.”
Morrogh said he had only recently begun to review the Torres internal-affairs files, after first sending them to another prosecutor, Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher, to remove any statements that Torres was required to make to his employer which violated his right against self-incrimination.
After an initial review of Fisher’s work, Morrogh said, he received more records from Fisher on Wednesday that “contained information which should have been turned over to me long ago.” He said that the information would require more investigation.
Fairfax prosecutors typically do not use special grand juries, but one was convened in 2013 when a road-rage incident ended with a man dead after a confrontation in a mall parking lot in Fairfax City.
Morrogh said he expected that the Geer grand jury would hear evidence for about a week.