Fairfax County officials are trying to oust the deputy county attorney who led the legal team advising the county police and Board of Supervisors in the 2013 police shooting death of an unarmed man, according to several people with knowledge of the decision.
Cynthia L. Tianti, a 25-year veteran of the county attorney’s office, is “on leave,” according to an e-mail County Attorney David Bobzien sent Wednesday to his staff. And five people with knowledge of the situation said that Tianti’s leave is the first step in forcing her out and reorganizing the office in the wake of its handling of the Geer case.
Bobzien, too, had earlier this week announced that he will retire in June 2016. But it was Tianti, several supervisors have said, who led the county attorney office’s involvement in the Geer case.
Documents show that Tianti counseled the Fairfax police to withhold internal affairs files from the county prosecutor investigating the August 2013 shooting, which occurred during a response to a domestic dispute at Geer’s Springfield townhouse.
And according to board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), the county attorney’s office did not tell supervisors that prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh had requested a meeting with Bulova and the rest of the board to discuss the case.
Morrogh, frustrated by what he saw as obstruction by the police, referred the Geer case to federal prosecutors, where it has remained since January 2014.
The action against Tianti comes as part of a reorganization inside the county attorney’s office in response to anger from county supervisors over being kept in the dark about Morrogh’s investigation of the killing of Geer by county police officer Adam D. Torres.
Torres told investigators that he saw Geer move his hands to his waist and thought he might be reaching for a weapon. But other officers who witnessed the shooting said Geer was standing in the doorway of his townhouse with his hands overhead, grasping the top of the storm door, when Torres shot him.
County spokesman Tony Castrilli declined to comment on Tianti’s employment status. Several county supervisors, including Bulova, also declined to comment on the specifics — although several acknowledged that changes in leadership in the attorney’s office are underway.
“There are going to be changes in the personnel involved in the Geer case,” said Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock.)
“The legal team assigned to the case in the county attorney’s office will have new leadership,” added Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville.)
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who was chief among those calling for terminations in the office.
Tianti, who joined the county attorney’s office in 1989 and is paid about $180,000 a year, did not return phone calls left at her home in Alexandria did not respond to e-mails sent to her county e-mail address.
Under county policy, an employee facing termination has 20 business days to contest that action, which could lead to a hearing before a three-member civil service commission.
In addition to sending the e-mail about Tianti’s leave, Bobzien has hired a lawyer, former Prince William County attorney Sharon E. Pandak, to “assist with personnel-related matters,” Pandak said Thursday.
In 2013, Tianti was among three county employees recognized for outstanding work.
In announcing the A. Heath Onthank award, the county cited Tianti’s coordination of a 2012 settlement of the 50-year dispute over water service between Fairfax and surrounding jurisdictions.
Among other things, the settlement led to the public utility Fairfax Water’s $40 million purchase of the Falls Church water system.
According to Cook, one of the county supervisors, the Geer case exposed organizational problems in the attorney’s office, where Bobzien didn’t always have direct oversight of conversations and decisions.
The Geer team “was operating without much input from the county attorney, and that shouldn’t be,” he said.
The reorganization will create a management structure that has “more reporting up directly to the county attorney as a way of making sure the county attorney is personally providing necessary oversight,” Cook said.
County leaders have sought to stay on top of the Geer case since the problems with the county attorney’s office were revealed.
Earlier this week, the board endorsed a 25-member police commission created by Bulova to delve into several county procedures after a police shooting. The commission is scheduled to deliver a report of recommendations by Oct. 1.
It is not clear if Bobzien will retire earlier than he had intended. Under the retirement plan that Bobzien is enrolled in, he is required to retire by March 2017.