A former police officer was charged with second-degree murder on Monday for shooting an unarmed man who was standing with his arms raised in the doorway of his home. For 16 months, police refused to release the officer’s name to the public and his internal affairs file to local prosecutors. After several witnesses and his fellow officers at the scene admitted that it was not a clean shooting, the officer was recently fired and charged with murder.
On the afternoon of August 29, 2013, Maura Harrington called 911 to report that her boyfriend, John Geer, was tossing her belongings onto the front lawn of their townhouse in Fairfax, Virginia. After living with Harrington for 24 years and having two teenage daughters together, Geer lost his temper when Harrington decided to leave him and began throwing her possessions out the door. While on the phone with police, Harrington informed the 911 dispatcher that Geer had guns in the house.
Responding to the call, Fairfax County police officers Adam Torres and David Neil arrived at the scene and saw Geer standing in the doorway of his home. According to Torres, Geer held up a holstered handgun and told them: “I have a gun; I will use it if I need to because you guys have guns.”
While seeking cover behind a tree on the front lawn, officers Torres and Neil pulled out their service weapons from 17 feet away. After Geer placed his gun on the floor, a 42-minute standoff ensued. With his gun aimed at the ground, Officer Neil attempted to calm Geer down until a trained negotiator, Officer Rodney Barnes, arrived on the scene to relieve him.
As he spoke with Barnes, Geer repeatedly asked Torres to stop aiming his gun at him. While Barnes attempted to convince Geer to come outside, Torres fired a single shot at 3:34 p.m. surprising the other officers. After Geer retreated inside his home and collapsed, Torres turned to Barnes and said, “I’m sorry.”
Uncertain if Geer was still alive or dead, the officers waited 70 minutes for a SWAT team to arrive. They found Geer dead just inside the front door.
According to interviews taken four days after the shooting, Torres told investigators that Geer “brought both his hands down in a quick motion towards his waist, and I fired a shot right through the screen door and hit him.”
“It was not accidental,” Torres told detectives. “No, it was justified. I have no doubt about that at all. I don’t feel sorry for shooting the guy at all.”
But according to witnesses and the other officers at the scene, Geer’s hands remained over his head when Torres killed him. Officers Barnes, Benjamin Kushner, David Parker, and Lt. Ron Manzo reported that Geer had his hands near his head or shoulders at the time of the shooting. Geer’s father, Don Geer, and his best friend, Jeff Stewart, also witnessed the shooting and reported that Geer’s hands remained near his head when Torres suddenly shot him.
“When the shot happened, his hands were up,” Barnes told detectives. “I’m not here to throw [Torres] under the bus or anything like that, but I didn’t see what he saw.”
For 16 months, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. refused to release the name of the officer who killed Geer. Chief Roessler also refused to provide the prosecutor with Torres’s prior internal affairs cases when Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh requested them. After Harrington and her daughters filed a lawsuit against the police chief, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows eventually ordered the county to provide its case file to attorneys for Geer’s family last December.
In April, the county agreed to pay a settlement of $2.95 million to Geer’s daughters. On July 31, Torres was fired from the Fairfax County Police Department after being placed on paid administrative leave since the shooting. And on Monday evening, Torres surrendered to authorities after a grand jury indicted him with second-degree murder.