The family of a Fairfax County man shot and killed during a police standoff said they now have a better idea of why one officer fired while others did not.
Last Friday night, the county released more than 11,000 pages of documents that are part of the investigation into the Aug. 29, 2013 death of John Geer. Early last month, county officials named Adam Torres as the officer who fired the fatal shot.
Many of the police interviews just released confirm what Geer's father and other witnesses to the shooting have always believed.
"It made me feel good that several of the officers say the same thing as I did," said Don Geer, the slain man's father. "Officer Torres saw something other than what we saw. I just can't feel he was justified in pulling the trigger."
Don Geer has always maintained his son's hands were held up as he stood inside the screen door of his Springfield-area townhouse during the standoff and that he was unarmed. Torres told investigators he fired when he saw Geer's hands go toward his waist and thought he might be reaching for a weapon.
Four other officers saw it much differently.
Officer Rodney Barnes told investigators, "When the shot happened, his hands were up. I’m not here to throw [Torres] under the bus or anything like that, but I didn’t see what he saw."
Michael Lieberman, the attorney who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family, said the documents demonstrate Torres should not have fired his weapon.
"You have six eyewitnesses on one side and the shooter on the other side saying something else tells me... that John Geer was shot wrongfully, unjustifiably," said Lieberman.
Lieberman said other new details in the documents make him wonder if Torres was upset and distracted when he arrived at the standoff. In his interview, Torres reported he had been fighting with his wife before the incident.
"So was his ability to perceive affected by the fact that he was just in a fight with his wife for an hour coming to the scene?" asked Lieberman. "I don't know. These are things we are going to explore through discovery in his case."
Lieberman said he and the family were also surprised to learn details about a prior police internal affairs investigation involving Torres. Five months before the shooting, Torres lost his temper at the courthouse, angered by a prosecutor's decision to drop charges in a DUI arrest he'd made.
"He started cursing out the commonwealth's attorney, the court system, his job. It is really remarkable and raises anger management issues with the officer," said Lieberman.
He will be in a Fairfax County courtroom Friday to ask a judge to require the county to turn over that police internal affairs report and whatever internal affairs probe has taken place in the wake of the shooting. It was the judge's order in the wrongful death suit that compelled Fairfax County to turn documents over the Geer family on Jan. 21.
The county's elected leaders and police department have come under fire for waiting so long to provide key details about the shooting. Board Chairman Sharon Bulova said once the documents were turned over to the Geer family, the Board planned to release them to the public a week later, on Jan. 28. But the Geer family then asked that some sensitive material be withheld from the public release.
Bulova said the Board planned to discuss that request at its Feb. 3 meeting. But Friday, Bulova learned the documents had been provided to a Washington Post reporter. The decision was made to move ahead with the public document release.
"It would have been done earlier than the release that happened on Friday but we were... asked by the family to reconsider some of the information included in the package for us to release."
Bulova said she regrets the information wasn't provided to the Geer family sooner.
"A tragic thing happened and my sympathies and heartfelt sympathy goes to Geer family," said Bulova. "I feel like we could have done a much better job sharing information with the family but also to be more clear with the public about the basics of what happened."
Bulova plans to meet with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday to get his ideas about who might be able to conduct independent review of the county's practices on dealing with police shootings.
Even though 17 months have passed, there's been no determination about whether the shooting was justified or whether Torres should be charged.
The case is in the hands of U.S. Department of Justice Civil Right division. The Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney would normally handle such a review and decide whether criminal charges are merited. But in late 2013, Fairfax County Police refused to turn over some information Morrogh was seeking.
He then referred the case to federal authorities. Chairman Bulova hopes getting the case details out in the public might spur the Justice Dept. to finish its work.
"Hopefully this has served to maybe encourage the Department of Justice to resolve this at their level as to whether the officer should be charged or whether or not action should be taken," Bulova said.