‘He killed that guy and he didn’t have to’

John Geer was killed a year and a half ago, but it wasn’t until a judge ordered officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, to release 11,000 pages of documents earlier this year, detailing their 17-month cover-up of the case, that details of his homicide by police became known.

Owner of a local kitchen design business in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, John B. Geer, 46, stood with his hands on top of the storm door of his Springfield, Va., townhouse in broad daylight and calmly told four Fairfax County police officers who had their handguns pointed at him: “I don’t want anybody to get shot. . . . And I don’t wanna get shot, ’cause I don’t want to die today,” reported Tom Jackman of the Washington Post on Jan. 31.

How and why Geer died that afternoon in August, 2013, after police responded to a reported domestic dispute at his home, remained a mystery for 17 months. But the documents released Jan. 30 “paint a vivid picture of a tense 44-minute showdown,” Jackman of the Post reports, after officers were called by Geer’s live-in partner of 24 years, Maura Harrington, another woman who has now learned what can happen if you seek police help with a non-violent domestic dispute.

The files also reveal for the first time why the Fairfax prosecutor shifted the case to the U.S. attorney’s office: an internal affairs investigation into a loud, angry “meltdown” suffered earlier by the shooter, officer Adam Torres, in the Fairfax County Courthouse. In that incident, five months before the Geer shooting, Torres repeatedly cursed an assistant county prosecutor who said there were problems with Torres’ investigation of a drunk-driving case, and stormed out of the courthouse.

But county police refused to make the internal affairs file of that incident available to Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh, the Post reports. A frustrated Morrogh, unable to get anywhere with his own police department, then asked federal authorities to take the case.

Geer and Harrington, who had two daughters together, had had an argument over the phone that day, and Geer had begun throwing some of Harrington’s belongings onto their front yard. Harrington came home and dialed 911.

When Torres, 30, and Officer David Neil arrived, Geer immediately turned and walked inside the townhouse. As the officers approached, Geer held up a holstered handgun and, according to both officers, said, “I have a gun; I will use it if I need to because you guys have guns.”

Torres quickly ducked behind a tree 17 feet from the front door, pulled his gun and aimed at Geer. Neil pulled his gun but kept it pointed down. Geer soon placed his holstered gun on the ground, and no officer saw it again, according to their statements.

Five minutes later, Officer Rodney Barnes arrived. Barnes, 49, was a trained negotiator. He began to develop a rapport with Geer.

‘NOBODY’S GOING TO SHOOT YOU’

Neil McDonald, senior Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, picked up the account in his Feb. 18 column:

“Asked whether Geer had weapons, his common-law wife answered yes, but they were legally owned and secured. No, he hadn’t been drinking.

“Barnes asked Geer if he owned a pistol. Geer said yes, and fetched it. He held it up, holstered, for Barnes to see and set it aside, raising his hands again. He offered to let Barnes come into the house and retrieve the weapon.

“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.

“He said ‘I know if I reach down or drop my hands I can get shot,” Barnes told detectives later. “I said, hey, nobody’s going to shoot you. . . .”

But Geer pointed to one nearby officer in particular, Adam Torres, who kept raising his pistol from the “ready” position (pointed at Geer’s legs) to Geer’s chest.

“Please ask him not to point his gun at me,” Geer begged Barnes. Geer even offered to come out and be handcuffed 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.

Geer, grabbing his wound, screamed in pain and stepped back, slamming his door closed.

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

Torres acknowledged it had been him. Then, unbidden, he told Barnes he’d had a fight over the phone with his wife just before arriving on the scene, McDonald of the CBC reports.

Police, unsure whether Geer was alive and armed, did not enter the house for 70 minutes, until a SWAT team arrived with an armored truck and battering ram, Jackman of the Post reports. “When the tactical officers entered, Geer was dead just inside the front door.”

Torres said he fired because Geer “brought both his hands down really quick near his waist.” But all the other officers at the scene agreed Geer’s “hands were up.”

Mark Lieberman, the Geer family lawyer, told reporters “It is hard to believe a Virginia state grand jury has not been presented with this information. . . . If this was a similar situation involving two ordinary citizens, there is little doubt that any individual who shot an unarmed man who was holding his hands up in the air and claiming that he did not want to hurt anyone would have been arrested and charged.”

“It’s not good,” Officer David Parker, who was crouching 15 feet behind Torres, told investigators. “He killed that guy and he didn’t have to.”

SHOULD POLICE BE EXEMPT FROM LAWS?

“The killing of John Geer should frighten everyone,” concludes Neil McDonald of the CBC.

Indeed. Our system of government does not envisage the populace supervised and occasionally culled with impunity by armor-clad para-military units not subject to the same laws as the rest of us.

If you or I draw a handgun and point it at someone, we’ve committed an indictable crime known as “assault.” If we then shoot an unarmed fellow-citizen who no reasonable person believes was seriously threatening bodily harm, prosecutors will generally assert we’ve committed a far more serious crime -– homicide, which a jury will be asked to label either manslaughter or murder, following an adversarial proceeding.

But police officers hardly ever face such public trials.

Should police be exempt from these laws? Well, there are certainly circumstances under which a police officer should not be charged, just as prosecutors have discretion not to charge you or me. If the person at whom we point our weapon is known to be a fleeing killer, for instance, who’s taken an innocent hostage and is threatening to kill again, any one of us might be found justified if we respond with armed force. (Though again, you or I, unlike police, would face strict scrutiny, would incur large legal fees, and would likely spend at least that night in jail -– please don’t try this at home.)

But our cops are killing a lot of unarmed fellow civilians these days, and a large part of the problem clearly is an us-versus-them mentality in which officers face no consequences for treating us -– even in our own homes -– as dangerous adversaries.

After John Geer was shot, police waited 70 minutes for him to bleed to death inside his house, until they could bring an armored vehicle to the scene to break down his door. In other words, they treated him — a man who attracted police attention by committing no “crime” but throwing some of his girlfriend’s clothes on his front lawn — as though he were some kind of deranged suicide bomber, a wailing terrorist with fifty pounds of explosive wrapped around his waist.

Police frequently say they have dangerous jobs. Their job that day — one for which they all volunteered, mind you — was to lessen the harm they’d already done by quickly entering John Geer’s home and offering him first aid, even at the risk of their own lives. But they didn’t do that, did they?

Disarm the populace, so we’d be even more at the mercy of these armed cowboys? I don’t think so. Not until the day when someone who has fatally shot a police officer says “I don’t care if no one else saw it; that cop made a furtive movement toward his waistband,” and prosecutors and investigating officers respond by saying, “Well, OK then, in that case we’re done here, Mr. Citizen; you’re free to go. Here, don’t forget to take your weapon with you, and your ammo. Nice shooting, pardner.”

Vin Suprynowicz, an award-winning 20-year former editorial writer for the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal, is the author of “Send in the Waco Killers,” “The Ballad of Carl Drega,” and the new novel, first of a series on the War on Drugs, “The Testament of James.” A version of this column appears in the April 10 edition of “Shotgun News.”

9 Comments to “‘He killed that guy and he didn’t have to’”

  1. MamaLiberty Says:

    Indeed… and in the meantime, if people continue to call “911,” the innocent will continue to die at the hands of our “protectors.”

    “Call 911 and Die” – a book that lays it all out in black and white. Perhaps one of the best gifts you could give to someone who still believes that the cops are there to “serve and protect.”
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964230445/ref=kinw_rke_rti_1

  2. He Killed That Guy And He Didn’t Have To - Freedom's Floodgates Says:

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  3. Reverend Draco Says:

    Should police be exempt from laws?

    I would say that, while acting in their capacity as Agents of the State, they should be exempt from the presumption of innocence.
    When acting as a private citizen, they should absolutely be presumed innocent – as John Geer should have been.

    Until We, the People, begin meeting these cretins with their own RoE – nothing is going to change.

  4. MamaLiberty Says:

    Draco, could you explain just why you would want any “agents of the state,” and what you see as their legitimate role or purpose. Whom do you see enforcing any standard or “exemption” they don’t choose for themselves? The problem with “agents of the state” is that they answer to nobody but the state, if that.

    The “we, the people” rhetoric sounds great to some, usually those who don’t analyze it. There are roughly 310 million of “The people” these days, and they don’t/can’t and never did speak with one voice or have even close to the same needs and ideas.

    If you want “agents of the state,” or any “state” at all, it’s none of my business. Just don’t count me as a part of your “we.” Please. All I want is to be left alone.

  5. Reverend Draco Says:

    I’m sorry of your peabrain is insufficient to the task. . . I try to type slowly enough for you to understand.

    I never said that I wanted agents of the state. But – since we’re stuck with them for the nonce – We, the (non-State Agents) People should, for our own safety, exempt them from the presumption of innocence.

    Did I use small enough words for you this time, cretin?

  6. MamaLiberty Says:

    “People should, for our own safety, exempt them from the presumption of innocence.”

    Even if that was right to do… the question remains:

    How did you propose to make it happen?

  7. Richard Chiu Says:

    By evaluating the evidence that they are innocent of any crime and, if such evidence is insufficient and they refuse to accept any other sufficiently retributive justice, killing them.

    I propose to make that happen by a number of methods, like bullets and knives. My method of last resort is to basically exterminate a sizable chunk of the human race, when all else fails. Which it seems likely might happen, but I’ll still be happy if we manage to kill all the bad cops using some more focused and less indiscriminate method.

  8. PeaceableGuy Says:

    “People should, for our own safety, exempt them from the presumption of innocence.”

    What a back-asswards way to suggest a shoddy patch to the problem of law enforcement officers treating people as chattel property (and getting away with it).

    Let’s not introduce yet another snarl to the tangled ball of yarn. Instead, unsnarl the mess by identifying the forgotten root issue of the snarl: each human has self-evident, unalienable rights, among which is the right to life. To wit: a human is the exclusive owner of the body he/she inhabits, and by necessary extension, the exclusive owner of all labor produced by said body.

    Once that principle is widely recognized, then it won’t matter what sort of costume one person wears while pointing a deadly weapon at another person. Absent a situation that would cause a reasonable person (not a judge, fellow cop, ad nauseum) to fear for their own life or limb, such an assault – by anyone – is a crime. It of course follows that killing someone by criminally assaulting them is manslaughter at best, if not outright murder.

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