Fairfax County’s top attorney said Tuesday that he will change the management structure in his office to fix communication problems at the heart of the county’s handling of an investigation into the August 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man.
David P. Bobzien said that over the next several months, he will eliminate a top deputy position and become more involved in cases involving police shootings and others that may lead to litigation — a plan he described to members of the County Board of Supervisors in a closed meeting and later during an interview with The Washington Post.
“I think we needed more communication within the members of the office,” the county attorney said in his first public comments since controversy erupted over the county’s handling of the investigation into the John Geer shooting. He did not describe a specific timetable for the changes.
“I think his reorganization plans are right on,” said County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D). “This will absolutely help and improve our communication issues.”
The office reorganization began in response to anger from county supervisors over the mishandling of the investigation surrounding the shooting of Geer at his Springfield doorstep by Fairfax Officer Adam D. Torres.
Earlier this month, Bobzien, a 22-year veteran with the county, announced that he agreed to retire in June 2016 as part of the reorganization plan — a move that several county supervisors had sought. His departure will be about nine months earlier than planned, Bobzien said Tuesday.
In addition, the county is trying to force out Cynthia L. Tianti, the deputy county attorney who oversaw the Geer investigation, a process that is still in motion.
Although Bobzien declined to comment on Tianti, he said he plans to “abolish” the deputy of operations position she had occupied.
Her position as the overseer of many operations inside the office of 39 attorneys kept him out of the loop on specific cases, including the Geer investigation, the county attorney said.
“I have to be able to meet with the deputies more frequently,” Bobzien said. “Certainly, I was relying — and in most cases it was a very good reliance — on the deputy of operations. I just think it’s far better to decentralize and have my very competent other substantive area deputies keeping me apprised of things directly.”
Tianti did not respond Tuesday to a phone message seeking comment.
Court documents released last month show that she counseled the Fairfax police to withhold internal affairs files from the county prosecutor investigating the shooting, which occurred during a response to a domestic dispute at Geer’s Springfield townhouse.
Under Tianti’s direction, the county attorney’s office also did not tell supervisors that prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh had requested a meeting with the County Board to discuss the case, according to several supervisors.
Morrogh, frustrated by what he saw as obstruction by the police, referred the Geer case to federal prosecutors, in whose hands it has remained since January 2014.
The details surrounding the county’s handling of the Geer investigation prompted a public outcry, leading to the creation of a new police commission and calls for changes in the county attorney’s office. Many of Bobzien’s staff members were caught off guard by the mounting pressure, according to e-mails obtained by The Post through the Freedom of Information Act.
On March 4, the day after the County Board announced Bobzien’s retirement and endorsed a new police commission to delve into county policies, the county attorney sought to put his staff at ease after what he described as “a difficult week.”
“I know that many of you are confused, upset and anxious regarding both what you have read in the newspapers and what the future will look like for this Office,” Bobzien wrote. “I fully intend that these changes will be seamless and that your work and role in this Office will not be dramatically impacted.”
The next day, after inquiries from The Post about Tianti’s employment status, Bobzien sent a note to top deputies urging them to think about what needed changing in the office that handled 1,870 lawsuits last year, including land-use cases, environmental litigation and administrative issues.
“Our ‘reorganization’ is taking on a life of its own and I think we will have to come up with some creative and concrete measures (more than we discussed yesterday,)” Bobzien wrote to his deputies.
On Tuesday, Bobzien said the reorganization now also includes having more meetings about pending cases, particularly on days when the County Board meets so any new details will find their way to it quickly.
The office will also create a new deputy county attorney position in charge of cases involving public-private partnerships, redevelopment efforts and the county’s housing authority, Bobzien said.
County supervisors who had been pushing for changes in the office said they are generally pleased about the reorganization.
“Any changes in that office are good changes,” said Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee).