From DiMuroGinsberg, P.C., Counsel for the Family of John Geer
February 2, 2015, Alexandria, Virginia
After almost seventeen months of deafening silence, the family of John Geer, a Fairfax County resident and father of two, has finally seen the Fairfax County Police Department’s own evidence that John was wrongfully shot by Officer Adam Torres. On December 22, 2014, a Fairfax County judge forced Fairfax County, the FCPD and Chief Roessler to turn over information they had learned about the facts and circumstances surrounding John’s fatal shooting, which had been known only to them and which they had inexplicably withheld from the family and the public for almost a year and a half. Now we know that at least four Fairfax County police officers were eyewitnesses to the shooting [besides Officer Torres] and they confirm the account given by two civilian witnesses – that John Geer was shot in the doorway of his home by Officer Torres with his hands up in the air and that he was not making any threatening gestures. One officer who was an eyewitness to the shooting told investigating detectives: “It’s not good. He killed that guy and he didn’t need to.” He went on to say that he didn’t understand why Officer Torres shot John Geer. Neither do we.
John was neither under arrest for any crime nor was there a warrant for his arrest as he stood lawfully inside the front door of his home. Prior to the fatal shot, John repeatedly told Officers that no one was going to get hurt today, that he did not want to get shot and did not want anyone else to get shot. He specifically stated that he “did not want to die today” or anyone else to get hurt. John stated that he knew his rights, he had done nothing wrong and he wanted the police to get off his property.
Although Officer Torres refused to be interviewed the night of the shooting, during a subsequent police interrogation after the shooting, Officer Torres admitted that well before he fired the fatal shot, John voluntarily showed the officers on the scene a holstered gun which he then deliberately and visibly placed on the floor. John then purposefully raised his hands in the air, where they remained for almost an hour. This same holstered gun was indeed found still sitting on an ankle-high stairwell landing several feet to John’s left after Officer Torres fatally shot him. Other officers described John as speaking calmly and standing with his hands up in the air for nearly an hour prior to the shooting without making any threats to the officers. In fact, in a manner consistent with such behavior, and just moments before he was fatally shot, John asked for permission to scratch his nose several times and then slowly lowered his hands to do so, and thereafter immediately raised his hands again above his head and shoulders.
John repeatedly told other officers at the scene that he felt Officer Torres was acting nervous. On several occasions John asked that Officer Torres stop pointing his weapon directly at him and put his gun down or move back. Each time John scratched his nose, after asking for permission, Officer Torres admitted that he raised the weapon he had pointed at John and often placed his finger on the trigger. Placing his finger on the trigger is in violation of the County’s and the universal cardinal rules of gun safety. At one point, another officer asked Officer Torres to lower his weapon to help deescalate the situation. Officer Torres temporarily complied but soon raised it again. The officer closest to John, who was speaking to John for over forty minutes before Officer Torres fired his weapon at John, stated he had a close and an unobstructed view of John, had his eyes on John, and that John had his hands up in the air when he was fatally shot. This fact has been consistently confirmed by at least four other police officers and two civilians – John’s father and a close friend who witnessed the shooting. In fact, no other officer corroborates Torres’ account of Geer’s hand movements and placement at the time John was fatally shot.
Moments after the shooting, Officer Torres repeatedly stated to another officer that “he was sorry”, that his wrist hurt (presumably from pointing a gun at John without a reason for almost an hour), and for some unexplained reason Torres immediately stated that he had fought with his wife immediately before arriving at John’s house. Clearly, John was shot for no reason, and no excuse afterwards will change that fact.
Although the release of this information is an important step towards justice for John Geer, the FCPD and Chief Roessler need to release the remaining information concerning Officer Torres – including their previous investigation into his angry outburst, which was so severe that a Fairfax County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney characterized an encounter with Torres at court as a total “meltdown.” To that end, on Monday, January 26, 2015, the family filed three motions with the court asking for the remaining documents that the FCPD continues to withhold. It is critical to the emotional well-being of victims’ families and for the public’s confidence and safety that Fairfax County is transparent in police shootings such as this one and that there be justice for John Geer.
It is now clear that within days, if not hours, the facts of this case were known to the FCPD. There is no excuse for Fairfax County and the FCPD to force the family to get a Court order to learn Officer Torres’ name and the basic facts of this case. Officer Torres’ statements, as well as the statements of the four police officers and two civilians recounting John being shot with his hands in the air, should have been released a long time ago. At the very least, Fairfax County could have released the incident report created by the lead criminal investigator after redacting information that was irrelevant to John’s shooting in order to protect civilian witnesses’ and the family’s privacy. Instead, it took over seventeen months and a court order, to finally force the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor to publish over 11,000 pages, 50 audio tapes and several video tapes from the investigative file of John’s death on the County’s website on Friday, January 30, 2015. The County has a duty of transparency to a victim’s family and to the public in general. The County’s complete silence and stonewalling the family, the public and even the prosecutors looking into this tragic matter for seventeen months, cannot be condoned and is plainly unacceptable.
It is time for the FCPD to publically address and re-evaluate their policies regarding the use of deadly force and commit to timely internal investigation of such shootings to ensure that no other citizens are victimized by inadequate police procedures and improper actions by police officers. If an unarmed Fairfax County resident can be shot on the threshold of his own home with his hands raised in the air, it is clearly time for a change.