The office of Fairfax County Attorney David P. Bobzien will be reorganized amid allegations that lawyers there mishandled a case involving the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man, the county Board of Supervisors said Tuesday.
Board members also endorsed the creation of a new county police commission intended to address how police shootings in the county are handled.
It remained unclear what would actually change under the reorganization.
“The board and the county attorney have had a discussion today regarding communication and information-sharing,” Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), chairwoman of the board’s personnel committee, said after a closed-door session that lasted about 90 minutes.
“The county attorney has indicated that he will reorganize the day-to-day operations of his office, and he has informed the board that he will retire, effective June 30, 2016,” Gross said. “The board will begin the search process for a county attorney by the end of this year.”
County spokesman Tony Castrilli declined to elaborate on how the county attorney’s office will be revamped. He also said he didn’t know whether Bobzien, who was hired in 1993, was planning to leave anyway. Under a county retirement program that Bobzien is enrolled in, he is required to retire by March 2017.
Frustrations with Bobzien’s office have been percolating since revelations last month that he and his top deputies kept the board of supervisors in the dark about communications with county prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh during his investigation into the shooting of John Geer in the front doorway of his Springfield home.
E-mails released by Morrogh showed that he had unsuccessfully sought to meet with the board after the county police department — acting on the advice of Bobzien’s office — refused to turn over investigative files about the fatal shooting by county police officer Adam D. Torres.
Morrogh referred the case to federal prosecutors. More than a year later, the U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating the case and weighing whether to pursue charges against Torres.
The 25-member commission will help “ensure a culture of public trust” that has been jeopardized by the Geer case, said board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), who created the panel. The commission consists of police officers, lawyers, academics, journalists and citizens concerned about police accountability. It will be chaired by Michael Hershman, founder of the Fairfax Group, a conflict resolution organization.
Bulova said the police commission will be tasked with reviewing county policies governing police-community relations, how information concerning police incidents is released to the public, and the level of cooperation between county attorneys, police officials and the commonwealth’s attorney after police-involved shootings.
After canvassing local experts and other jurisdictions across the country, the commission will deliver a report to the board of supervisors by Oct. 1, Bulova said.
“This will be a high-level look, not an in-the-weeds effort to look at a particular case,” Bulova said.
The board voted 7 to 3 to endorse the commission after a sometimes heated discussion that illustrated some of the frustrations felt by county leaders over the Geer case.
“You’re setting this up as an election-year issue,” warned county Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who voted against forming the commission and expressed worry that the group’s work would interfere with the Geer investigation. “This is just a reaction to the latest nasty story in the media.”
The other supervisors who voted no — Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) and Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) — also questioned the decision to create a new commission while the Geer case is pending.
“I’m not happy,” Hudgins said. “I have a very strong feeling we’re going to muddy the waters of transparency with this effort.”
The closed-door meeting with Bobzien was at times intense, some supervisors said. “We had a very heated conversation about what our expectations are,” said supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee). “David is a professional, and he understood that things could have been done better, and he is committed to making some significant reorganization decisions within the county attorney’s office. And we trust that he will do that.”
One resident whose son was killed by a police officer in 2006 said he was surprised that he was not offered a spot on the county commission. Salvatore Culosi Sr. said he studied the police department’s policies and procedures closely amid his family’s wrongful-death lawsuit against Fairfax and could have been a useful voice on the commission.
Bulova’s office said that the commission’s membership is not finalized and that Bulova staff members plan to talk to Culosi.
Tom Jackman contributed to this report.