FAIRFAX (AP) Fairfax County’s top prosecutor says his efforts to investigate a fatal shooting by a county police officer were thwarted by the county’s refusal to release records to him.
In a letter to a U.S. senator made public Tuesday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said county attorneys refused to release internal affairs records of the officer who shot 46-year-old John Geer of Springfield in August 2013.
The Geer shooting has drawn the attention of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and others because no decision has been made on whether to charge the officer 16 months after the shooting.
Geer was shot in the chest just inside the door to his home on Aug. 29, 2013, after his partner of 24 years, Maura Harrington, called 911 during an argument. An autopsy shows Geer bled to death before police entered the home and as his family waited in nearby houses.
Morrogh said the refusal of the county attorney — a separate office — to cooperate forced him to refer the case to federal prosecutors.
“I argued that in cases of this nature the public has to have complete confidence in the integrity of the investigation,” Morrogh wrote in his letter to Grassley, but he said the county attorney’s office and police were unpersuaded.
Morrogh said his best option at that point was to turn over the case to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which could seek a court order demanding that the county turn the records over to prosecutors. Morrogh said he was barred from doing so himself because one state office can’t sue another state office.
Federal prosecutors have said they confronted the same intransigence from Fairfax County, but obtained a court order to forcing the county to turn over the records. County officials say they have complied with that ruling.
Geer’s family also has filed a lawsuit, and Fairfax County attorneys had also sought to block the release of records to the family and their lawyers.
On Monday, a Fairfax County judge presiding over the lawsuit ordered the release of investigative records to the family’s lawyers.
Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows said his order applies to witness statements, 911 calls, police reports and the name of the officer who shot Geer. Witnesses say Geer was unarmed when he was shot.
Bellows ordered it to be released to the Geer family’s attorneys within 30 days.
County officials, including police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr., had argued that releasing the records would compromise the criminal investigation by federal prosecutors.
Bellows rejected the argument, pointing out in his order that the Justice Department doesn’t object to the release of the records and that the county’s request to keep all documents sealed “goes far beyond what the court deems necessary or appropriate in this case.”
Police officials say the officer who fired the fatal shot has been on paid desk duty for months. Fairfax County spokesman Tony Castrilli said Tuesday that the county will comply with the judge’s order and won’t appeal.
— MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press. Associated Press writer Amanda Myers contributed to this report.