On Friday, one or two U.S. Park Police officers shot a man in Fairfax County. Who got shot? Who shot him? Why did the shooting happen? We still don’t know. And now that it’s up to the FBI, we probably won’t know for a long time.
We do know that there is video of the incident, recorded by two in-car cameras by Fairfax County police, and two Fairfax officers witnessed the shooting, the Fairfax police chief said Wednesday. We know there is a non-police witness to the shooting, which happened after a pursuit by Park Police for several miles. The witness told The Washington Post she watched officers walk over to the man’s vehicle and shoot him, though she did not know why. And we know that the man who was shot is a 25-year-old McLean resident and graduate of Langley High School, now in grave condition after being shot in the head at close range, two family members said. His family has asked that his name not be published yet.
But why was he shot? The Park Police said he was involved in a hit-and-run traffic accident on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, six miles north of the Fort Hunt neighborhood where he finally stopped driving. The Park Police declined to answer any further questions about the episode, such as the route the pursuit took from Slaters Lane in Alexandria, where the hit-and-run occurred, or whether the driver being pursued had a weapon or made any threats to police in the six miles between Slaters Lane and the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax, where the shooting happened.
On Tuesday night, the Park Police issued a statement which said that “In the interest of objectivity, the United States Park Police Chief of Police, Robert D. MacLean, requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation lead the investigation into the officer-involved shooting.” That request apparently happened on Monday, but the Park Police already weren’t talking by then. The FBI also issued a release Tuesday night saying that “two U.S. Park Police officers were involved in a shooting” and they were taking over, although they did not respond to the scene on Friday night.
So, FBI, same questions. Who got shot? Who did the shooting? “We wouldn’t be able to release the names,” FBI spokeswoman Kadia Koroma said Wednesday, “that’s just standard procedure.”
I noted that a man was shot in the head by one or two police officers, last week, and we don’t know anything about how it happened. “Now that it’s being investigated federally, we would not release that information,” Koroma said. She said that since Park Police are federal law enforcement, employed by the National Park Service, it was appropriate for the FBI to investigate. Park Police have arrest authority in Fairfax County under Virginia law, and initially took the lead role in the investigation, with Fairfax police assisting.
When will any information be released about who shot the man, and why? “These things take time,” Koroma said. “I cannot put an end date on when an investigation will end.”
And who will, ultimately, rule on whether or not this was a justifiable shooting? Koroma didn’t know. The spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Joshua Stueve, said he couldn’t comment. The Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney, Raymond Morrogh, said he had not been informed that he would be involved. The role of decision-maker apparently hasn’t been decided yet.
The shooting occurred in the district of Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who said he called the Park Police after several days had passed with no information. “They said it’s been turned over to the FBI,” Beyer said. “It was very unsatisfying. I’m going to continue to be as aggressive as I can be, not because I need to know but because the public needs to know.”
A woman who said she witnessed the shooting, and has given a statement to the Park Police, told The Post that she was in her car on Fort Hunt Road, waiting to turn left on Alexandria Avenue when she saw the Jeep 4×4 stopped on the shoulder of Alexandria Avenue, and two police cars with flashing lights stopped on Alexandria Avenue. The woman asked that her name not be published because she is a potential witness to a crime.
“I saw the two police officers pointing their guns at the vehicle,” she said. She said the Jeep was “a little bit tilted,” but not like it appeared in photos shot by ABC 7 photographer Freddy Wheeler, in which it was on its side. She said the driver’s window was up and the door was shut. She could not see the driver.
“Then I heard the pop pop pop,” she said. “It was at least two shots, maybe three. I took off.” She estimated that she was about 15 feet from the shooting.
She said when she spoke to a Park Police investigator, she was asked if she heard the driver of the Jeep revving the engine. She said no, “he was at a complete stop.” She said she was asked if she heard the police officers yelling at the driver, and she did not. She has now reached out to the FBI.
Two neighbors heard many more shots. Kristin Weatherley, a nurse, said she heard what sounded like a car crash, so she began walking toward the scene from her home, though she could not yet see it. “Then I heard gun shots,” she said. “More than five. A handful at least.” She quickly returned home to care for her two small children.
Carsten Fries said he lives “a short block” away from the intersection and heard about seven shots in rapid succession. He was concerned about the amount of gunfire in a residential neighborhood.
A recording of the Fairfax County police dispatch tapes from that night captured one of the Park Police officers talking to Fairfax dispatchers, reporting that “we have a black Jeep,” gives a vanity license plate, and says, “he’s fleeing from an accident we had at Slaters Lane.” A minute later, he reports that he is following the Jeep at speeds of 59 miles per hour, traffic clear. He then asks, “You guys have any spike strips to stop the vehicle?” The dispatcher says she has units coming, and then a Fairfax officer reports, “I’m behind the Park Police officer.”
Then, at 7:41 p.m., the same Fairfax officer reports, “We’re at Fort Hunt and Alexandria roads. The Park Police are firing shots.” What sounds like the pop of gunshots can be heard in the background. He calls for an ambulance a moment later.
About a minute later, the Fairfax officer reports, “The driver’s still in the car. They’re trying to get in to the car, it just rolled over a bank.” The Jeep was on an unpaved shoulder of the road, and apparently tipped over after the shooting, perhaps while officers were trying to retrieve the driver, this recording would indicate.
Four minutes later, paramedics have not yet arrived and the dispatcher asks for a status report. Another Fairfax officer responds, “Gunshot to the head. No longer sounds like he’s breathing. Slight movement, but critical.”
On Wednesday, Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler confirmed that two Fairfax officers had witnessed the shooting, and that “Our agency has turned over our evidence in this case, in-car videos, to the federal authorities conducting the investigation.”
The Park Police do not have any in-car cameras or body-worn cameras, Sgt. James Dingeldein said. He declined to expand on when or why the Park Police relinquished their investigation of the shooting.
Now, we wait. Anyone with information about the shooting is welcome to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff writer Moriah Balingit contributed to this report.