Braving freezing temperatures, about three dozen protesters marched outside Fairfax County police headquarters Thursday morning to demand information and accountability in the August 2013 police killing of John B. Geer in Springfield.
Most did not know Geer, a 46-year-old kitchen contractor and father of two, but they expressed disgust that 16 months had passed without a decision on whether to charge Adam D. Torres, the officer who shot Geer, and that very little information about the circumstances has been released.
“I feel like I could be next,” said Keith Harmon of Mount Vernon, who held a sign reading: “Q: Who investigates Fairfax Police? A:
Themselves. FBI. No one.” Harmon said his neighbor “could well call the police, say I’m a madman with a gun, and the cops may show up and kill me.”
Geer had been in an argument with his longtime partner on Aug. 29, 2013, when she called police to report that he was throwing her belongings out of the house. She left the house with their two daughters when officers arrived, and witnesses said officers spoke to Geer for 50 minutes while he stood behind his storm door with his hands on its frame above his head, refusing to come outside. When he began to lower his hands, witnesses and police said, Torres fired one shot into his chest.
The police, told by the partner that Geer had rifles in his home, waited an hour before rendering aid. Geer was dead when SWAT officers broke into the house. No decision has been made on whether to charge Torres with a crime, and the case is now being handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The protest was organized by “Justice for John Geer,” launched on Facebook by Woodbridge resident Mike Curtis. Also supporting the group was “Virginia Cop Block,” which Richmond resident Nathan Cox started to call for more accountability and transparency in police and government.
Cox handed out pamphlets about civil rights to passersby at the adjacent Fairfax County courthouse and used a bullhorn to remind everyone why the groups had gathered.
Cox and others emphasized that they were not anti-police. “Our entire mission is to bring about more transparency,” Cox said, “not only within law enforcement agencies but the judicial system as well, and educating people on how to deal with both jurisdictions.”
The Justice Department and Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said they encountered roadblocks when seeking information about the shooting from Fairfax police, who investigated it initially. Morrogh transferred the case to the U.S. attorney in Alexandria in January 2014, and there is no indication of when a ruling might come.
Curtis and Cox said their groups plan to appear at the next Fairfax Board of Supervisors meeting — on Jan. 13 — to make their concerns known to the board, which has been criticized for not urging police to release more information about the shooting. Police have resisted discussing the case while it remains under investigation, although on Dec. 22, a Fairfax judge ordered disclosures to Geer’s family in its civil lawsuit against the police within 30 days.
Commanders watched the protest and interacted genially with the marchers, and they tried to offer them a portable restroom facility, although it froze in the frigid temperatures, hovering around 20 degrees. The police declined to comment about the protest.
Robert Sarvis, the libertarian candidate for Virginia governor and U.S. Senate, marched with the group, as did some of Geer’s friends, including Joe Ratel of Franconia. Ratel said the police “were brave enough to shoot him, but not brave enough to go in and render aid.” He said the police statement this week that identified Torres as the shooter and that said Geer threatened to use a gun against police was “a whitewash. It’s a fantasy. They’ve had 16 months to come up with this story, and it’s ridiculous.”
Jeff Stewart, another longtime friend of Geer’s, said he was “pleased with the attention the case is getting.” But he added: “I don’t feel it’s about a bad cop. It’s about the management and the accountability once it occurs. And that’s the problem here. This has been going on for far too long in Fairfax County.”