On at least three occasions in the year before he shot and killed John Geer in 2013, then-Fairfax County police Officer Adam Torres asked to be pulled off the street because he was distraught over marital problems. One time in 2012, his supervisor reported that Torres showed up for work “dazed, out of sorts, not focused at all. He wasn’t able to put together a full sentence,” prosecutors said Thursday. “Finally he said, ‘She’s cheating on me,'” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert McClain said.
Prosecutors said the last time Torres was removed from service because he was too upset to work was Aug. 1, 2013. Exactly four weeks later, he had a 16-minute phone argument with his wife as he drove to Geer’s house in Springfield, to respond to a report of a domestic dispute. Geer, who was unarmed, was inside the doorway.
Torres exited his cruiser, took up a position 17 feet in front of Geer with his gun aimed at Geer’s chest, then fatally shot Geer 42 minutes later, police records show. Almost immediately after he fired the shot, he told the officer who had been speaking with Geer, “Man, I did have an argument with my wife before I came to work,” transcripts show.
The new revelations about Torres came during a pretrial hearing before the April 18 murder trial in Geer’s death. His lawyers were seeking to keep his marital problems and prior mental health woes out of his trial, and a judge granted some of their requests.
Defense lawyers revealed in their motion that Torres had been placed in the Fairfax police department’s Employee Assistance Program, often used for counseling or other treatment of officers, but did not say when that happened or whether it stemmed from Torres’s problems related to his marital difficulties, or his March 2013 blowup in the Fairfax courthouse when he cursed a county prosecutor and stormed out of the building. The defense also revealed that Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler testified before the special grand jury investigating the shooting last summer, informing the jury that he had fired Torres on July 31 for the use of “excessive force.”
But Torres’s lawyer, John F. Carroll, argued that Torres’s prior problems weren’t relevant to the shooting of Geer, and in at least two instances Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith agreed. He ruled that prosecutors may not present evidence of Torres’s requests to be taken off the streets on two separate days in September 2012, saying they were too far removed from the day of the shooting. Smith said he would rule later on the third occasion in August 2013. He said that Torres’s statements about his marital problems to fellow Officer Rodney Barnes immediately after the shooting, and to homicide detectives four days later, would be admissible.
Barnes was speaking calmly with Geer, whose girlfriend called police after they had argued on Aug. 29, 2013, when Torres suddenly fired one shot into Geer’s chest. Torres has claimed to detectives that Geer quickly lowered his hands as if going for a weapon, but four other officers and two other witnesses told investigators they didn’t see that.
Though the shooting happened in August 2013, no information was revealed about who killed Geer or why until January 2015, after Geer’s family won a discovery order from a Fairfax judge in their civil suit against Fairfax police. After the Geer lawyers received the police criminal investigative file, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows ordered the police in February 2015 to turn over their internal affairs files on Torres. Two months later, before any of that information was made public, Fairfax County settled the Geer wrongful death lawsuit for $2.95 million.
The new revelations about Torres’s removal from the streets on three separate instances, combined with the prior disclosure that he had loudly erupted at a prosecutor in the courthouse, raised new questions Thursday about whether Torres should have been on the street the afternoon he killed Geer.
“I don’t think he should have been out there,” said Mike Lieberman, the lawyer for Geer’s family. “You have three times in a year where he himself says he’s unable to go out on the street. When you have an officer saying that, that should send out all sorts of red flags.”
Roessler declined to comment, county spokesman Tony Castrilli said, because the case was pending and it was “inappropriate for him to talk about past personnel matters at this time.”
The previously undisclosed incidents involving Torres are relevant to the murder charge because they had rendered him “unable to do his duties” on those dates, McClain said, and because he told homicide investigators that his argument with his wife “is in the back of his mind while he’s on scene” prior to shooting Geer. He argued the events were interconnected and admissible because they showed the suspect’s state of mind at the time of the shooting. McClain and Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh declined to comment on whether Torres should have been on active duty that day.
McClain said the first episode occurred on Sept. 12, 2012. Torres’s supervisor reported that Torres was “looking bewildered” at work because “he thinks his wife is cheating on him.” The supervisor, Sgt. Ronald Theal, suggested Torres take the day off “because of concerns of how his emotions would affect his ability to do his job,” and Torres did go home.
Ten days later, on Sept. 22, 2012, Torres appeared for work “visibly upset, cold, pale” and not making sense, Theal testified to the grand jury, court records show. Torres showed Theal a text message indicating his wife was cheating on him, McClain said. Theal again gave Torres a day off.
In July 2013, Theal testified that Torres told him that his wife was going to Hawaii by herself and he would need some time off, describing Torres as upset. Torres did not take that day off. But on Aug. 1, 2013, prosecutors said Theal reported that he asked Torres how things were going, and Torres answered that “they’re arguing all the time. Adam told me he was just fed up with everything.” He was again sent home.
Four weeks later, the shooting occurred. Barnes, a trained negotiator, had been standing to Torres’s left, trying to convince Geer to come outside. In an interview hours after the shooting, Barnes told a detective that he said, “Who shot?” He said Torres told him, “I did. I’m sorry. He moved his hand down to his waist.” Barnes said he told Torres, “I didn’t see that.” He said Torres made a remark about having to deal with internal affairs, and then he said, “Man, I did have an argument with my wife before I came to work.”
When homicide detectives Chris Flanagan and John Farrell asked Torres why he said that to Barnes, Torres said: “it’s just a lot of things just came up, for a split second I just thought whether it was just out of anger that this happened, but it wasn’t out of anger.” He acknowledged that as he aimed at Geer, “the argument was still lingering in the back of my mind.” Later the detectives asked him, “Do you shoot Mr. Geer because you’re angry at your wife?” Torres replied, “No. Not at all.”
McClain noted that Torres minimized his problems with his wife in the interview with the detectives. He told them the call with her was only a “couple of minutes maybe,” when phone records showed it was 16 minutes. Then Farrell asked Torres, “Have you ever had an incident where you weren’t able to handle a call or you weren’t able to comply with your duties because of a phone call or something involving this domestic situation?” Torres answered, now apparently untruthfully, “No.”
Torres has been held without bond in the Fairfax jail since his indictment in August. Carroll declined to comment after the hearing.
This post has been updated to include comments from Mike Lieberman, the Geer family lawyer, and Chief Edwin Roessler.