Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), likely to be the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined a growing chorus of voices Thursday demanding to know why Fairfax County and federal authorities have offered no explanation, and made no decisions, about the August 2013 police killing of an unarmed Springfield man.
Grassley sent letters to Fairfax Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. and U.S. Attorney Dana Boente in Alexandria saying that even if the shooting of John Geer “was justified, family members and the public are entitled to a credible, independent accounting of exactly what happened at Geer’s residence on Aug. 29, 2013, and why.”
Grassley sent a series of specific questions to Roessler and Boente and asked that both respond by Dec. 1.
“How long will it be before a decision is made to either pursue an indictment or drop the case?” Grassley asked Boente about the now 14-month-long investigation.
“Please explain why FCPD refuses to disclose even basic information concerning this case,” Grassley wrote to the police chief.
Roessler said he could not comment on the letter or say whether he would respond. Boente’s spokesman, Joshua Stueve, said that the Justice Department’s Legislative Affairs Office handles all correspondence from congressional officials and that he could not discuss the case.
On the day he was shot, Geer, 46, was standing unarmed in the doorway of his Springfield townhouse, his arms on the frame of the storm door, and talking to Fairfax officers after tossing his longtime partner’s belongings out of the house upon learning she was moving out. Witnesses, including his father and his best friend, said that after about 50 minutes, an officer suddenly fired one shot into Geer’s chest from a distance of 10 to 20 feet, with no apparent provocation.
Geer turned, closed the door and collapsed, witnesses said. Police waited another hour, while calling to him to respond, before knocking down the door. By then, Geer had bled to death.
Following department policy, police declined to reveal the name of the officer or any details of why he fired until the Fairfax prosecutor ruled on whether a crime had been committed. But after five months, during which Fairfax prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh reportedly tried and failed to obtain the internal affairs files from previous cases in which the officer was involved, Morrogh shifted the case in February to the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria for federal investigation. That office has not offered any details on the case in the nine months since.
Grassley has been the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and is expected to be named chairman with the Republican takeover of the Senate. The committee has oversight of the Justice Department and its U.S. attorneys.
Grassley said he sent the letters because the Geer case “has received little attention, except in The Washington Post, and at least the known facts are concerning. It’s unacceptable for the U.S. attorney and the police department to leave a case like this languishing for so long, keeping Geer’s family and the public in the dark.”
Geer’s father, Don Geer, said of the letters, “I thought he did a wonderful job. I wish he’d done it a year ago. He certainly has asked the right questions.”
Don Geer said he has heard “not a word” from federal authorities “for a long, long time.” In September, Geer’s former partner, Maura Harrington, filed a wrongful death civil suit against the Fairfax police in hopes of learning more information about why Geer was shot.