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Ex-Fairfax police officer who killed John Geer sentenced to one year

The former Fairfax County police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man in his doorway in 2013 was sentenced to a year in jail Friday for involuntary manslaughter, over the vehement objection of the victim’s mother. Having already served more than 10 months behind bars, the officer will be released next week, Fairfax sheriff’s officials said.

Adam D. Torres, 33, was facing trial for second-degree murder for the August 2013 killing of John B. Geer. But on the eve of trial in April, he and his lawyers reached a deal for a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter and a 12-month sentence. Geer’s mother, Anne Geer, took the witness stand Friday morning and said it was “insulting to suggest that the crime of murder is only worth one year in a protected jail cell…John will spend forever in his grave. This is not justice for John.”

Torres did not speak during the hearing. His wife, Danielle Torres, and their newborn baby watched from the front row. Afterward, she said, “I love my husband. And he missed the birth of his son.” The Torres’s third child was born in April, but Torres and his lawyers did not seek permission for him to be present for the birth. He has been held without bond in the county jail since his indictment last August, which his lawyers did not appeal.

The Aug. 29, 2013, shooting remained largely under the radar for more than a year, until Fairfax police were forced to release information about it in January 2015. Then, the case erupted and the county formed a special commission to review the police policies and practices. This week the county announced revised use of force policies and Chairman Sharon Bulova said she would move forward with a civilian review commission.

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said he wanted to try the case, but agreed to the plea deal in part because Geer’s longtime girlfriend and two children supported it and did not want to testify at trial. “I struggle with it, but I feel I did the right thing,” Morrogh said after the sentencing by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith. “I don’t know what was in his [Torres’s] mind that day but he should not have shot Mr. Geer.”

Geer, 46, was angry that his girlfriend of 24 years, Maura Harrington, was moving out of their Springfield townhouse and had thrown her belongings onto the front yard. Torres was one of the first two officers to arrive on the scene. Geer went back into the house, where Torres said he displayed a gun in a holster, then placed the gun on the floor and raised his hands onto the frame of his screen door and refused to come back outside, Torres told detectives in two statements.

After 45 minutes, while a third officer was speaking to Geer, Torres suddenly fired one shot into Geer’s chest from a distance of about 17 feet. Geer spun, closed the door and fell to the floor, fatally wounded. Torres later told investigators he saw Geer suddenly drop his hands to his waist and he feared that Geer might be going for another gun. Four other officers and two civilian witnesses — Geer’s father and his best friend — all said Geer’s hands were near his head or shoulders when Torres fired, their statements show.

John Geer had hands up when shot by police, four officers say in documents

But the details of the case, including the name of the officer who fired the shot, were withheld by Fairfax police for more than a year, and the case attracted scant attention throughout 2014, even as police shootings elsewhere in the country were prompting civil unrest. Behind the scenes, Fairfax police refused to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors who wanted to examine Torres’s personnel files, both prosecutors said. Finally, in January 2015, after Harrington filed a civil suit on behalf of their two teenaged daughters, a Fairfax judge ordered police to release the criminal case information to the family, to include the shooter’s name and the witness statements.

Fairfax County then settled the civil case with Geer’s daughters for $2.95 million, thought to be a record settlement in Virginia. Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh impaneled a special grand jury in July 2015, and the following month it indicted Torres on murder charges. Fairfax police fired Torres in July after he had spent two years on paid administrative duty.

Torres was arrested and ordered held without bond and remains in the Fairfax jail. On the day before his trial in April, with the consent of Harrington, Torres’s attorneys offered to have him plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and accept a one-year sentence.

Ex-Fairfax officer Adam Torres pleads guilty to manslaughter in shooting death of John Geer

But Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith did not immediately accept the deal in April. He wanted a pre-sentence report, in which state probation officers interview the defendant and provide an overview of both his life and the crime, before deciding whether to impose the one-year sentence.

It is customary in sentencing hearings for the judge to hear from the victim or their family. Harrington was not in the courtroom but Geer’s parents were, and Anne Geer took the witness stand. She calmly unfolded a single sheet of paper and said she and her husband had “waited two years and ten months for our son’s murderer to be brought to justice. While standing, unarmed, with hands in the air, having committed no crime whatsoever, John was executed by a police officer sworn to uphold our laws and protect us from harm.”

She continued: “Adam Torres repeatedly bragged that it was not accidental, no it was justified. I have no doubt about that. I don’t feel sorry for shooting the guy at all, I would do it again.'” She was quoting from Torres’s statements to homicide detectives several days after the shooting, in which he said he felt threatened by Geer and had to shoot him.

“Politically downgrading the special grand jury’s second-degree murder indictment,” Anne Geer said, “to felony involuntary manslaughter with one year in jail completely negates the intent to kill as expressed by Torres himself…Citing our pledge, ‘With liberty and justice for all,’ I ask, where is the justice for John? Where?” She then walked past Torres and returned to the audience.

Smith imposed the one year sentence, and three years of post-release supervision. Torres will be released from jail in five days, on Wednesday, Fairfax sheriff’s Maj. Tyler Corey said Friday. State prisoners must serve 87 percent of their time, and Torres has already served more than 10 months as of Friday.

After the sentencing, Torres’s lawyers, John F. Carroll and Edward J. Nuttall, refused to speak to The Post. But Carroll told the Associated Press that if the case had gone to trial, “our position would be that he [Geer] brandished a weapon.” Carroll has previously argued that Geer was not “unarmed,” which Fairfax prosecutors strongly disputed. Carroll told the AP that there were reports that Geer “had been walking around with an AR-15” rifle prior to the standoff with police, though Torres made no mention of hearing those reports in his interviews with detectives shortly after the shooting.

Though Torres did not speak Friday, Carroll said the former officer was remorseful and cited the officer’s remarks in the April plea hearing offering his sympathy to Geer’s family. He called the case “a terrible tragedy for the Geers” but also harmful to Torres’s family. “His wife has been raising two children and now he’s had a third child,” Carroll said, “so that was a big part of the decision” to plead guilty to the reduced charge.

Anne Geer told reporters afterward, “If I went out and shot somebody, I would never see the light of day. One year is insulting. It was murder. He was standing there with his hands up. And this guy was mad at his wife so he shot John.” She was referring to the comment Torres made almost immediately after he fired the shot, when 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. Torres told investigators that he had been arguing with his wife on the phone during his drive to Geer’s house, and transcripts indicate he did not hear any additional information about Geer’s weapons or domestic situation before shooting him.

Harrington said later, “We wished for a longer sentence, but this plea was a guaranteed felony conviction. However, we are still waiting on an apology,” which was part of her not objecting to the plea deal. “Muttering under your breath in a courtroom doesn’t constitute an expression of genuine remorse,” Harrington said, a reference to Torres’s quiet, hurried statement in April.

Morrogh acknowledged that Geer’s parents were unhappy with the plea deal and sentence. But he noted that they were estranged from their son at the time of the killing, and that Harrington and the children approved of the deal. The daughters issued a statement in April after Torres entered his plea, recommending the judge be merciful to Torres and imploring Fairfax County to implement the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Commission formed in the wake of the shooting.

Be merciful to the officer who killed our dad: John Geer’s daughters speak

Morrogh said afterward, “The grand jury did ask if there’s a charge of second-degree murder, can he get a lesser charge? So even the grand jury was considering it.”

Morrogh said the case resulted in “a lot of positives” after the formation of the Ad Hoc Commission. “Good citizens and good people are working to improve the system. I do think this is somewhat of an aberration,” he said of the shooting. “I think it’s unfortunate it unwound the way it has, I’m very sorry for Mrs. Geer.”