The U.S. Park Police shot a man in Fairfax County, Va., on Friday night. The man is in critical condition. And that’s about all we know.
More than three days after the event, in a residential neighborhood in the Mount Vernon area, the Park Police have decided that the public does not need to know the facts of the case. They simply are not talking. And the Fairfax County police, deferring to the Park Police, are not providing any facts either.
The Park Police refuse to identify the man they shot. Or the officer who shot him. Or why the officer shot him. There may be perfectly valid reasons for the shooting. The man may have threatened the officer, or tried to run someone over. But the Park Police won’t say.
Any of this sound familiar? In August 2013, a Fairfax County police officer shot and killed a man named John Geer in Springfield, Va. For a long time, we didn’t know why. The police didn’t release any information about the case until January 2015, 17 months later.
Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler has made great strides in trying to be more transparent with the public since then, when he took the county attorney’s advice not to cooperate with the county prosecutors investigating the Geer shooting. But in Friday’s case, with the still unnamed shooting victim, he is deferring to the Park Police and their federal authority — Park Police actually have arrest powers in Northern Virginia under state law — and not releasing any information either.
“It’s the Park Police’s case,” Roessler said. “Their officer is involved in the shooting. It’s their pursuit involved.” He said he had a homicide detective “shadowing” the Park Police investigation.
It is also not clear who would rule on whether such a police shooting was legally justified. Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh said he had not gotten a single phone call on the case from anyone involved and had no information about it. He said his chief deputy had been told that federal authorities would be handling it. The Park Police are a branch of the federal National Park Service.
Joshua Stueve, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Dana Boente, said he couldn’t comment. More than three days after a police-involved shooting, no decision has been made on who will lead the investigation into it and who will rule on it.
Here’s what police have said:
At about 7:30 p.m. Friday, an SUV became involved with another vehicle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway at Slaters Lane and left the scene, according to Park Police Sgt. James Dingeldein. Dingeldein would not say what make or model SUV, what happened in the accident, whether the occupants of the other vehicle were injured, or what type of vehicle they were driving.
It was a hit-and-run, and a lookout was broadcast for the SUV, Dingeldein said. He said a Park Police officer spotted the vehicle heading south on the GW Parkway in Fairfax County and pursued it. Fairfax County police also joined the pursuit. Dingeldein would not say what route the pursuit took.
Soon, the pursuit ended. The SUV crashed at the intersection of Alexandria Avenue and Fort Hunt Road. Photos tweeted by ABC 7’s Tom Roussey show a Jeep 4×4 on its side with both doors open on the driver’s side, but Dingeldein could not say what vehicle was involved.
The driver of the SUV is a white male, Dingeldein said, and he did not fire any shots at the police. And that’s it.
Did he have a weapon? Park Police won’t say.
Did he threaten the police? Park Police won’t say.
How many times was he shot? Park Police won’t say.
How many officers shot him? Park Police won’t say.
Who is he? Park Police won’t say.
What hospital is he in? Park Police won’t say.
What is he charged with? Park Police won’t say.
Did any body-worn or in-car cameras capture the event? Park Police won’t say.
Typically, when one man shoots another man, the county police investigate that shooting. But here, it hasn’t been decided yet who the lead investigative agency will be for this officer-involved shooting, Roessler said. Which, more than three days after an event, is highly unusual. Fairfax did not send its crime scene investigators to the scene and only a limited homicide unit response as well as internal affairs, to check on any possible violations by Fairfax officers during the pursuit.
The Park Police don’t have a lot of officer-involved shootings. In fact, they’re only located in three places — Washington, New York and San Francisco. Their chief is Robert MacLean, a member of the Park Police for 26 years.
When the police use deadly force, they owe the public at least a basic version of what happened. Utter silence after three days often leads people to think that something is being hidden.