Ex-cop pleads to involuntary manslaughter in shooting

Matthew Barakat
Associated Press

Fairfax, Va. — A former Fairfax County police officer accused of fatally shooting a man who had his hands up during a 2013 standoff pleaded guilty Monday to involuntary manslaughter.

Adam Torres, 33, struck the plea bargain just before his murder trial was scheduled to begin in Fairfax. It calls for him to serve a 12-month sentence for killing John Geer, 46, of Springfield.

Torres spoke very briefly at the end of the hearing, saying, “I am truly sorry … There are no words I can say to adequately express my remorse.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said he agreed to the plea in part to spare Geer’s daughters from testifying. He also acknowledged the difficulties in obtaining convictions against police officers for actions committed in the line of duty. Torres is the first officer to be convicted for an on-duty shooting in the 75-year history of the police force in Fairfax County, where the population exceeds 1 million.

Morrogh detailed the evidence during Monday’s hearing. He said Geer was upset when his longtime partner, Maura Harrington, told him she was moving out. Geer threatened to kill himself, and Harrington called 911 and told dispatchers that Geer owned several firearms.

Torres was one of the first two officers on the scene during the 40-minute standoff, Morrogh said. Later, a trained negotiator took command. Geer had a .357 Magnum pistol that he laid at his feet during the standoff, but he kept his hands up, witnesses said. He told the officers, “I have a gun because you have guns, and I might need mine.” Later, he said: “I don’t want to die” and “I don’t want to get shot.”

The medical examiner determined Geer had a blood-alcohol level between .13 and .16, above the legal limit.

When Geer said he was going inside his house to get a drink of water officers tried to talk to him to keep him in their sight, the prosecutor said. At one point, Geer appeared to lower his hands slightly, according to officers on the scene.

Most of the officers did not perceive the movement as a threat, though one officer supported Torres’ account that Geer was growing increasingly agitated. It was then that Torres fired a fatal shot that nicked Geer’s heart and pierced his lungs, Morrogh said.

Morrogh acknowledged that Geer’s family had mixed opinions about the plea bargain — he said Harrington supported the deal to avoid having her daughters testify, but Geer’s mother opposed it.

Torres has been jailed since his arrest in August, and would only have to serve a few more months if the plea bargain goes through as expected. His sentencing is set for June.

Geer’s father, Don Geer, told reporters after the hearing that he has mixed emotions about the conviction.

“I feel it could have been a more severe sentence,” he said.

In pretrial hearings, prosecutors noted Torres was angry about the breakup of his marriage and said it carried over when he responded to the Geer home. He had been taken off duty several times in the previous year because of his anger over the marriage.

He had been arguing with his wife on the phone as he was responding to the call at Geer’s house, prosecutors said.

While Geer was killed in 2013, Torres was not indicted until 2015. The two-year delay led to allegations that Fairfax County was stonewalling the investigation. The prosecutor said the county’s own lawyers refused to provide internal police documents he needed to conduct his investigation. A lawsuit and an inquiry from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prodded the county to relent.

Last year, the county paid $3 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Geer’s family.