Thursday, February 19, 2015

In Fairfax, Va., a different, no-less-scary police shooting 18 months ago John Geer was shot by police while standing at his front door with his hands raised

By Neil Macdonald, CBC News Posted: Feb 18, 2015 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 18, 2015 2:20 PM ET

That should not have happened. The killing of John Geer is probably the clearest and most compelling example of what amounts to police impunity in recent American history.
He committed no crime the day he was killed. Even the officer who shot him acknowledges that. There was no struggle. The details are not murky.

Here are the facts:

In August 2013, Geer's common law wife, who was breaking up with him and moving out, called police to report he was angrily throwing her possessions onto his front lawn.

Asked whether Geer had weapons, the woman answered yes, but they were legally owned and secured. No, he hadn't been drinking.

Two squad cars — four officers — initially responded. Geer, on seeing them, retreated into his home, refusing to answer questions.

A few minutes later, Officer Rodney Barnes, a trained police negotiator, arrived, and as the four other policemen stood close behind him with weapons drawn, he began trying to coax John Geer out onto the porch.

He asked for permission to scratch his nose, Barnes said, and did it slowly, then raised his hands again. He asked to reach into his pocket for his phone; Barnes asked him not to, and he obeyed.

Please ask him not to point his gun at me, Geer begged Barnes. Geer even offered to come out and be handcuffed voluntarily if Torres and the other patrolmen would agree to move "way back."

Then he asked to scratch his nose again. Barnes consented. And Torres fired.

"And I'm like, who the fuck shot?" Barnes told detectives later. "I kinda got a little pissed."

Asked by Barnes why he'd fired, Torres said Geer had dropped his hands to his waist suddenly, that he appeared to be going for a weapon.

"I said I didn't see that," said Barnes later. "You know, and I never took my eye off him (Geer)."

The other three officers who'd been present told investigators the same thing. So did two civilian witnesses.

But prosecutors and police commanders and county officials buried the case.

And all this was done under a cloak of secrecy, until, earlier this month, a judge finally ordered disclosure of nearly 11,000 documents, containing interviews with nearly everyone involved.

Torres, it turns out, stuck to his story that the other four officers were wrong.

The judge's disclosure order has created a bizarre situation: Nearly all the available evidence, including audio of the witness statements, is now available on the Fairfax County website.

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