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.