The Other Three Officers Said No

John Geer was having problems with his live-in partner of 24 years, Maura Harrington, and started throwing some of her possessions out of the house and onto the lawn.  So she called the police.

One of the first officers to arrive, Adam Torres, a 30-year-old cop who had been on the force for seven years, pointed his gun at Geer when he announced that he had a holstered gun, which he put on the ground. Even so, Torres kept his gun aimed.  Other cops arrived, including Rodney Barnes, a trained negotiator.  He developed a rapport with Geer, and the situation de-escalated.

John B. Geer stood with his hands on top of the storm door of his Springfield, Va., townhouse and calmly said to four Fairfax County police officers with guns 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.”

Then Torres pulled the trigger and killed Geer.

Adam D. Torres, shot and killed Geer from 17 feet away, telling investigators that he saw Geer move his hands to his waist and thought he might be reaching for a weapon, according to newly released documents from the county.

Torres maintained that this was no accidental shot, but was fully justified.

But Torres said he thought Geer could have had another weapon hidden at his waist. “It was not accidental,” Torres told investigators. “No, it was justified. I have no doubt about that at all. I don’t feel sorry for shooting the guy at all.”

It’s curious that Torres would go so far as to say he didn’t “feel sorry” for shooting an unarmed man, but that’s the least of the problems he faces.  The more significant problem is that the other cops present say Geer’s hands were up, that he never reached for his waist, and there was no reason whatsoever to shoot him.

“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.”

The officer closest to Geer, Barnes, said the same.

“When the shot happened, his hands were up,” Officer Rodney Barnes, who had been talking to Geer at the moment of the shooting, told investigators that evening. “I’m not here to throw [Torres] under the bus or anything like that, but I didn’t see what he saw.”

It’s unclear whether Torres’ shot to Geer’s chest killed him, or Geer died during the 70 minute wait for medical attention.

But police, unsure whether Geer was alive and armed, did not enter the house for 70 minutes, until the SWAT team arrived with an armored truck and battering ram. When the tactical officers entered, Geer was dead just inside the front door.

This is particularly curious, given that the three officers other than Torres saw nothing to justify the shot, and yet were apparently more concerned with their own protection from the non-threatening Geer that they would rather let him die waiting for the SWAT team with its battering ram than try to save his life.

As it turns out, Torres and Geer had more in common than a shared bullet.

The detectives learned that immediately after the shooting, Torres told Barnes that he had been arguing with his wife on the phone as he drove to the call.

Farrell and his partner, homicide Detective Chris Flanagan, pressed Torres about the phone call with his wife: “Do you shoot Mr. Geer because you’re angry at your wife?” Farrell asked him, a transcript shows.

“No,” Torres replied. “Not at all.”

Anybody can have an argument with their spouse, but most don’t shoot and kill someone immediately afterward.  At least not someone other than their spouse.  But Torres did.

It turns out that Torres has some history of anger control issues, as reflected in an incident with a prosecutor five months earlier.

In March 2013, while handling a drunken-driving case brought by Torres, Peters told the officer that there were problems with the case. Torres repeatedly cursed at Peters and then stormed out of the courthouse. Word of the incident reached police headquarters, and Peters told investigators that five top police commanders called him to apologize for Torres’s outburst.

There was an investigation of Torres’ behavior, but the outcome remains unknown.

When Morrogh requested the file in the fall of 2013, the police department refused to give it to him. In January 2014, he sent the case to the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, who also ran into resistance from the Fairfax police, the Justice Department said. The case is still being reviewed by the Justice Department’s civil rights division, with no known resolution date.

To their credit, the other cops on the scene didn’t back up Torres’ invocation of the “hands-toward-the-waist” claim for shooting, but rather made clear there was no reason to shoot at all.  Given the second gun assumption, which in this case had some factual basis even though Torres didn’t know about it because he missed additional information while he was arguing with his wife, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. But the fact remains that Geer’s hands were up, and he was killed anyway.

Did Torres make a mistake?  Did Torres’ anger over his wife push him to shoot Geer?  Was Torres just incapable of controlling his anger?  No one knows, as Torres continues to maintain the shoot was righteous in the face of every other cop disagreeing.  As Mike Lieberman, a Geer family lawyer says:

“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.”

Even with three of his fellow cops confirming that there was no reason for Torres to shoot, that Geer had his hands in the air and never reached for his waist, there has been no action taken against Torres for gunning down John Geer.

25 thoughts on “The Other Three Officers Said No

  1. RAFIV

    The Two Gun Theory is a deadly farce, but whatever half-assed assumption you want to make about two guns incident to a search or traffic stop cannot reasonably apply to a licensed firearm owner on his own damn property.

    Many concealed carry training courses teach you to follow a similar protocol as the one followed by the victim here. The class I took here in Massachusetts taught that if asked to exit a vehicle or stopped for questioning as a possible suspect, inform officer that “For your protection I want you to know I have a licensed firearm on my person”, tell them where, remove in holster (basic safety) and place where directed or allow officer to retrieve, and follow further lawful orders.
    This also strikes me as common survival sense, but it got him killed. Disgusting.

    1. SHG Post author

      What keeps smacking me in the face is how the cops purport to provide their preferred method of doing things, such as immediately disclosing a weapon, which invariably bites the guy in the butt regardless of what he does. It’s heads, I win, tails, you lose. Disclose a gun and be presumed to have another; don’t disclose and your gun must be illegal and your intent malevolent.

      The only thing here to the cops’ credit is that the other three, save Torres, behaved responsibly and peaceably. Sure, Geer is still dead, but at least the other cops didn’t back up Torres’ story to cover him.

      1. Pup

        The other cops are no saints in this. Though they did not cover for Torres, they also refused to provide aid to a man that they had to know was bleeding to death from a police inflicted gunshot wound. That is pure cowardice.

  2. ExCop-LawStudent

    This case is a perfect example of why you always need an outside agency to conduct the investigation. Had this occurred in Wisconsin, outside investigators would have conducted the criminal investigation, would have filed their report with the State’s Attorney, and, if Torres was not indicted, released the report to the public.

    This also isn’t a proper application of the “two-gun” rule or “plus-one” rule. Those refer to searches of a person, not to a standing subject who voluntarily surrendered or put down a weapon. Torres is just making stuff up to cover his murder of Geer.

    1. SHG Post author

      So if a guy gives up or discloses his gun, there is no two-gun presumption, but if he doesn’t, then there is?

      1. ExCop-LawStudent

        It was always a rule relating solely to searches, and designed to make sure that an officer did not end a search on finding a gun, since there may be a second. That’s all it ever was. So that the officer would complete a search, that’s it.

        Anyone trying to apply it to non-search situations is making crap up.

        Think of it like going through discovery documents. If you find an email from one detective to another that he’s going to frame your client, the defendant, do you stop looking at the other documents at that point? Or do you still go through them all?

        And do you expect to find an additional exculpatory document at an oral deposition?

        Sure, the witness may give you more information, but do you really expect him to give you another document at that point?

        Torres is just trying to cover himself.

  3. Curtis

    The Other Three Officers Said No… but, just to be safe, we’ll let him bleed out for 70 minutes, just in case he isn’t already dead.

    Real hero’s would have said, “WTF!” And then rendered immediate medical attention. But no. Our partner here just shot a guy with his hands up and we’re going to wait 70 minutes for the TWAT Team to show up.

    And the two gun theory doesn’t hold any water in this case by the fact that he was shot with his hands up. He may have had a bazooka up his butt, but his hands were up. He may have had a bazooka up his butt after he was shot, but his hands were up, and now he is shot. But… OMG! Call the TWAT Team! We just shot a guy with his hands up and he might have a bazooka up his butt! It could be an ambush!

    Yeah. Pussies.

    1. John S.

      Let’s not forget as well just how milquetoast that “No” was. Not trying to throw him under a bus? My god. I wasn’t aware that cops view testifying against lying murderers to be such a delicate decision. What’s the matter, Officer Barnes? Afraid the rest of the boys in blue won’t back you when blow off steam by killing a man?

    2. Ken Mackenzie

      After Mr Geer had been shot for no reason, he would have felt (or been) justified in shooting back. I wouldn’t want to be the first cop through that door either.

  4. Syme

    But is the story here the shooting, or the 17 month+ coverup/stonewall by the Fairfax administration?
    {Or “and”….}

    The case is clearly a rockhard place for the Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney; the press has reported that their office has not indicted a cop in at least 40 years. [re: Prince Jones killing by Carlton Jones.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Both facets of this story are worthy of note, but between the two, the one that struck me as more fundamental and with broader application was the killing itself. Something about “hands up” these days strikes a chord.

      1. Jeff Lewis

        OK, ‘hands up!’ may strike a chord, but there is a full symphony of noise generated by the police administrators and union leaders, who are orchestrating the ‘Grand Opus of Unaccountability’. Fact is, we would be seeing far less frequent cases like this if LEO entities such as Fairfax would cough up the reports and take the timely and appropriate disciplinary actions against rogue cops. Instead, they fail.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m pretty sure they invented this thing called Google, which would be a much more direct route to answering your question than a comment here. That said, I do not promote individuals calling, so I will delete any response to these questions.

  5. Marc R

    I’m excited to read the federal report. They’ve had it 15 months now. Imagine the lengthy policy changes they’ll demand implemented along with civil rights prosecutions for due process violations and the ammunition for a future high value 1983 claim!

  6. TheWriterRights

    Question for anyone learned in such matters:

    Is the fact that Torres has not been charged in any way related to a citizen not having filed a sworn affidavit asking for charges to be considered? For example, I don’t know anything about this person Geer but I live in Virginia and if I were to examine some of the case records and become convinced that probable cause exists for criminal charges, could I file an affidavit and ask for an investigation?

    I’m asking because obviously a lot of readers are probably concerned that an investigation has occurred and no charges brought. But I wonder if somehow inside the legal system, officers get off on shootings like this because no one brings forward the charges even when they believe they should be?

    1. SHG Post author

      Most readers here are lawyers, whether defense, prosecution or judges, together with some knowledgeable non-lawyers, including cops and investigators. It is not a legal Q&A website for those unfamiliar with the law to get their questions answered. That said, the answer is no, that’s not how it works.

  7. Jack

    70 minutes to get this guy EMT help… Even the guys covered in body armor, robbing a bank, and firing thousands of rounds at cops from fully automatic weapons during the North Hollywood Shootout got medical care in right around 70 minutes… Disgusting.

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