Here’s what has happened in Ferguson, Mo., in the two months since a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed man:
■The officer who pulled the trigger was identified and his record made public.
■The president expressed his condolences, and the U.S. attorney general paid a visit.
■Protesters staged repeated mass demonstrations.
Here’s what has happened in Fairfax County in the nearly 14 months since a police officer shot and killed John Geer, also unarmed, while he stood with arms raised in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse:
■The officer’s name has not been released, despite abundant signs that the shooting was a mistake.
■The County Board of Supervisors wrote a gently worded letter to the U.S. attorney last month expressing concern about the unusually long delay in investigating the incident.
■A meeting of a local activist group unhappy about Geer’s case drew all of six participants Tuesday evening at the Martha Washington Library in Fairfax’s Alexandria neighborhood.
“All those people are bonding together in Ferguson, [but] it’s very difficult to get people to do anything in Fairfax,” said Mary Tracy, a member of the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability.
The differences between the two shootings are critical, of course. Ferguson has long suffered from racial tensions between police and the community. The killing there of a black teenager by a white police officer rekindled grievances dating back generations.
By contrast, the Fairfax public shows more confidence in the police, despite several past shooting controversies there. In addition, since Geer was white, the case doesn’t arouse the same racial concerns.
Still, Fairfax mustn’t let county police off the hook just because it’s politically convenient. The Geer case should prompt both the public and elected officials to force the department to come clean about what happened.
So far, the opposite has occurred. Police have provided no explanation for the shooting, or why Geer was left unattended for an hour afterward and apparently bled to death.
Geer’s girlfriend of 24 years, Maura Harrington, said the death still weighs heavily on their two daughters, ages 18 and 14.
“My girls have a right to know why their father was shot, and who shot him,” she said. “It’s not fair to them for this to keep dragging on. They need closure.”
The shooting occurred at the end of a standoff in August 2013. Police had been summoned to the townhouse because Geer, upset with Harrington, had tossed her belongings into the front yard.
Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who represents Geer’s district, said the circumstances of the shooting were worrisome. “I don’t have all the evidence in front of me, but from what I’ve seen, there are serious questions,” Herrity said.
Furthermore, mysterious obstacles have slowed the investigation. Although few details have been forthcoming, a major reason for the delay seems to be that the police have been reluctant to provide necessary information.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh spent five months on the inquiry before giving up and handing it over to U.S. Attorney Dana Boente.
Morrogh told my colleague Tom Jackman one of his problems “concerns some information, and I just can’t get it.”
That apparently referred to a refusal by police to hand over personnel files for the officer involved in the case.
Now Boente has had the case for even longer than Morrogh. It’s reasonable to assume he might be having some of the same problems that Morrogh did.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) told me Wednesday that the board has urged the police to cooperate, while respecting the rights of an officer who might face charges.
“We’ve strongly indicated that we want our police to do everything they can to move things along,” Bulova said. “It’s important that we also do so within the context of a federal investigation that could end up going to trial.”
Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. did not comment for this column. Previously, he said the department would not identify the officer who shot Geer because the policy was to wait until a criminal investigation is complete.
Nicholas Beltrante, executive director of the citizens coalition for police accountability, has his own theory about what’s going on.
“They’re stonewalling,” Beltrante said. “They’re allowing time to pass so the citizens of Fairfax County will forget about the matter.”
For the Geer family and the general public, that’s one outcome that shouldn’t be acceptable.
I discuss local issues Friday at 8:50 a.m. on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.