A special grand jury to investigate the Fairfax County police shooting of an unarmed man nearly two years ago has been empaneled and prosecutors have begun summoning witnesses to testify beginning next month, witnesses and the county’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.
John Geer, 46, was standing in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse on Aug. 29, 2013, when he was shot once in the chest by Officer Adam D. Torres while four other officers stood nearby. According to police reports, Torres claimed that Geer had jerked his hands down to his waist, but the other officers — as well as Geer’s father and best friend — said his hands were near his head.
No decision has been made on whether to charge Torres, 32, a nine-year veteran who remains on administrative duty. His attorney, John Carroll, did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said Wednesday that the special grand jury was selected by a circuit court judge this month without the prosecution’s involvement. State law requires the grand jury to have between seven and 11 members, each individually questioned and qualified by a judge.
Morrogh said that prosecutors had subpoenaed about 20 witnesses and that the grand jury will begin hearing testimony for four days beginning July 27. Two additional days, in early August, will be added if jurors seek more information.
The prosecutor could not disclose who had been subpoenaed, and it was not clear how many Fairfax police officers will be called to testify.
Geer’s father, Donald Geer, and Geer’s best friend, Jeff Stewart, said they received personal visits Tuesday from Fairfax homicide detective John Farrell, the lead investigator in the case, serving them with subpoenas. Stewart said he might be one of the first witnesses to testify so he can provide biographical details about Geer, a self-employed kitchen contractor, and because he spoke to Geer that day and witnessed the shooting from about 70 yards away.
Donald Geer, who met with Farrell several weeks ago, said it was his first contact with Fairfax police since shortly after the killing. “As far as the county is concerned,” Geer said, “I don’t exist, up until the past few weeks.”
Geer said the grand jury investigation was “a year and a half too late. By the time the grand jury comes up with something, it will have been two years.”
Although there have been no charges, the county agreed to pay $2.95 million to Geer’s two teenage daughters to settle their wrongful-death civil suit. Michael Lieberman, the family’s attorney, said the formation of a grand jury and the issuing of subpoenas were “a positive sign that justice may be done in this case. The family’s been waiting a long time.”
The incident began when Geer’s girlfriend of 24 years, Maura Harrington, told him that she signed a lease on an apartment and was moving out, finalizing a breakup they had discussed for some time, Harrington said. Geer responded by throwing Harrington’s belongings onto the front yard of their home on Pebble Brook Court. When Harrington came home and could not stop Geer from tearing up their house, she called 911.
Torres and Officer David Neil were dispatched, and Geer showed them a holstered handgun, which he placed at his feet. Rodney Barnes, a patrol officer who is also a trained negotiator, then arrived to speak to Geer. Over the next 40 minutes, he could not persuade Geer to come out from behind his screen door, where he was standing with his hands on top of the frame, police and witness statements reveal. Other officers surrounded the scene.
Suddenly, Torres fired once. Geer spun, closed the front door and fell behind it. Barnes radioed that he heard movement inside, reports show, and police waited an hour before rendering aid. Geer was dead just behind the front door.
Although Torres said that Geer had lowered his hands as if reaching for another gun, three officers close to Torres and another just up the street said that Geer’s hands were around his head and not moving toward his waist.
Presented with this information in November 2013, Morrogh asked to see prior internal-affairs cases involving Torres. Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. refused to provide them, records reveal. In January 2014, Morrogh sent the case to the Justice Department so federal prosecutors could obtain the files. The Justice Department has taken no public steps on the case since then.
In February, after the internal-affairs files were provided to Geer’s family and to Morrogh, Morrogh said he would not wait for the Justice Department and would request a special grand jury. Fairfax prosecutors have used special grand juries infrequently, and no Fairfax officer has ever been charged in an on-duty shooting.