Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday released two new letters he has sent to the Justice Department and the Fairfax County Police Department seeking further information about the investigation into the fatal police shooting of a Springfield man nearly 18 months ago.
Also on Wednesday, Fairfax disclosed that it has paid $130,000 to the District law firm Hunton and Williams to help prepare a response to a November letter Grassley sent to county police about John B. Geer’s death. No decision has been made on whether to charge Adam D. Torres, the officer who fired the fatal shot, prompting Grassley’s inquiries.
The letter sent Tuesday to Fairfax police asks when they and elected county officials knew that four officers who were at the scene of the 2013 shooting had contradicted Torres’s claim that Geer had quickly lowered his hands to his waist before he was shot.
In his letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the senator asks whether the Justice Department will share information with Fairfax’s chief prosecutor and whether federal authorities would object to the county prosecutor’s resuming his investigation.
Grassley’s initial inquiry to the Justice Department in November helped unlock a torrent of information. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows cited Justice’s response to Grassley when he ordered Fairfax police to provide extensive portions of their investigative file to the Geer family’s attorneys and declined to place the file under seal. In the response to Grassley’s letter, an assistant attorney general said Justice had not instructed Fairfax to remain silent on the case.
Last week, Bellows again cited the Justice Department’s letter to Grassley when he ordered Fairfax to turn over police internal affairs files on Torres and again declined to impose a protective order on the material. The judge said he would allow federal officials to file a motion for a protective order by Feb. 20 if they wanted internal materials withheld from the public.
Geer, 46, had been involved in a domestic dispute with his partner of 24 years when police arrived at his Springfield townhouse Aug. 29, 2013. According to police records, he showed officers a holstered handgun, placed it at his feet and then kept his hands on the top of a screen door for 42 minutes before Torres shot him.
Torres remains on paid administrative duty.
After Fairfax police refused to provide Torres’s internal affairs files to Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, he referred the case to the Justice Department in January 2014, where it has remained.
In an interview Wednesday, Grassley said he decided to get involved in the incident both because it had become a federal matter, one in which the Senate Judiciary Committee has oversight, and because “transparency brings accountability. The big picture is what can police departments learn from this?”
In Tuesday’s letter to Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Grassley said the police department’s “refusal to cooperate with the Commonwealth Attorney” led Morrogh to shift the case to the U.S. attorney. This forced “the expenditure of limited federal resources on an investigation that should have been handled at the state level,” the senator wrote.
Grassley noted that after the case went to federal prosecutors, Fairfax police still refused to provide Torres’s internal affairs files “until ordered to do so by the court, after over two months of litigation.”
Grassley said Fairfax police used the federal investigation as an excuse not to release any information about the case, and “now we know that FCPD unnecessarily prolonged that investigation by its failure to cooperate.”
Grassley asked Roessler to provide the date when he learned that “at least four of these officers provided accounts of the shooting that conflicted with that of Officer Torres.” He also asked what information the police had provided to members of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.
The county’s chief spokesman, Tony Castrilli, said Fairfax “will continue to cooperate fully with the Senate inquiries.” He said the county had no experience with Senate inquiries and had hired “additional legal expertise,” led by Mark Bierbower, who represented baseball slugger Mark McGwire during congressional inquiries into his use of steroids.
A Justice Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Grassley’s letter.