Fairfax County

Ex-Officer Pleads Guilty in Shooting Death of John Geer, Unarmed Va. Man

The former Fairfax County police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man in 2013 may spend just a few more months in prison after entering a guilty plea Monday.

Adam Torres faced a second-degree murder charge but instead pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of 46-year-old John Geer of Springfield. The plea deal calls for Torres to be sentenced to one year in prison, but the judge expressed concerns about the prison term.

"He has admitted to at least a felony, and that helps the situation, as far as I'm concerned, a little," said Geer’s father, Don Geer.

Torres has already served eight months in prison and would be credited with the time he's served. His final sentencing is scheduled for June 24. 

"I'm truly sorry for my actions, which caused John Geer to lose his life," Torres said at the end of Monday's hearing. "There are no words I can say today that can adequately express my remorse. Above all, I'm heartbroken that Mr. Geer's children will grow up without their father." 

Torres' trial was expected to begin Monday, but the prosecution said Geer's family's desire not to testify factored into their decision to pursue a plea deal.

Don Geer and Jeff Stewart, a close friend of John Geer, pointed out a jury trial posed a risk of no conviction.

"Part of that reality is he was a police officer, and it's hard to get a unanimous jury to convict a police officer of a crime of this magnitude," Stewart said.

Torres is the first officer to be convicted for an on-duty shooting in the 75-year history of the police force in Fairfax County, where the population exceeds 1 million.

"It's my opinion, this is a just resolution of the case," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh.

Morrogh detailed the evidence during Monday's hearing. He said Geer was upset when his longtime partner, Maura Harrington, told him she was moving out. Geer threatened to kill himself, and Harrington called 911 and told dispatchers that Geer owned several firearms.

Torres was one of the first two officers on the scene during the 40-minute standoff, Morrogh said. Later, a trained negotiator took command. Geer had a .357 Magnum pistol that he laid at his feet during the standoff, but he kept his hands up, witnesses said. He told the officers, "I have a gun because you have guns, and I might need mine." Later, he said: "I don't want to die'' and "I don't want to get shot."

The medical examiner determined Geer had a blood-alcohol level between .13 and .16.

When Geer said he was going inside his house to get a drink of water, officers tried to talk to him to keep him in their sight, the prosecutor said. At one point, Geer appeared to lower his hands slightly, according to officers on the scene.

Most of the officers did not perceive the movement as a threat, though one officer supported Torres' account that Geer was growing increasingly agitated. It was then that Torres fired a fatal shot that nicked Geer's heart and pierced his lungs, Morrogh said.

Morrogh acknowledged that Geer's family had mixed opinions about the plea bargain -- he said Harrington supported the deal to spare her oldest daughter the potential trauma of testifying.

“It was a concern because you don't know what the defense is going to do,” Geer.

Geer's daughters, ages 15 and 19, mentioned mercy for Torres' family in a statement released Monday.

"The question that concerns us now is not just a matter of a trial and incarceration. Much like Dad's murder has repercussions for his family and the community, locking Torres in a cell will have an effect on others," Geer's daughters said in the statement. "Whatever his faults, Torres' wife and children did not murder our father, and it would be wrong to hurt them just to allay our own anger and pain. Robbing other children of time with their father would only make us complicit in another wrong."

Geer's mother opposed the deal. Don Geer told reporters after the hearing that he has mixed emotions about the conviction.

"I feel it could have been a more severe sentence," he said.

Prosecutors said Torres was angry over the breakup of his marriage and unfit for duty after fighting with his wife when he was called to Geer's home.

An investigation revealed Torres had a history of prior meltdowns on the job.

“I wanted him to be convicted of a felony,” Morrogh said. “I wanted him to serve time. I wanted him not to be a policy officer anymore.”

The long delay in bringing charges against Torres prompted accusations that the county was stonewalling prosecutors' investigation.The shooting led to protests against Fairfax County police.

"The men and women of the Fairfax County Police Department have fully cooperated with all authorities during this investigation," Chief Edwin C. Roessler said. "The action of one former employee is not reflective of the honorable work done day-in and day-out by all members of our Department."

The shooting also led to a number of changes within the department, including a review and retooling of the department's use-of-force policy.

Geer's daughters said they fear more residents could fall victim to police if all the reforms recommended by a special commission are not enacted right away.

Fairfax County paid Geer's family almost $3 million last year to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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