A new data dashboard shows Fairfax County prosecutors are sometimes asking for more detainments of defendants than judges.
The Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney (OCA) released a dashboard in October with data comparing how often and under what circumstances prosecutors are asking for pre-trial detainment and release to a judge’s recommendations.
“We’re trying to become a more data-driven office,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano told FFXnow. “We’re using this information that we’re collecting here for internal improvements, internal trainings, restructurings, and changing of our processes.”
He acknowledged that too often decisions in the justice system lack transparency and are done without the public’s knowledge.
“We want to let the community know what is going on in their justice system,” he said. “I think this system is a black box to many people. We want to change that.”
Courts and prosecutors diverge on when to detain defendants
The dashboard only covers bond review hearings, where a county prosecutor makes a recommendation to a judge that a defendant either be detained or released before their trial.
Descano said that involves “a small percentage of our cases,” though he was unable to provide the exact percentage compared to the total number of cases handled by the county.
The dashboard also only has data from a six-month period between Jan. 1, 2022 and June 30, 2022.
According to the provided data, decisions by the OCA don’t always neatly line up with the self-described “progressive” prosecutor reputation that Descano ran on in 2019, nor do they clearly affirm detractors’ perception of the office as “soft on crime.”
While prosecutors and courts generally align on non-violent misdemeanors and felonies, the OCA recommended detainment for violent felonies 20% more often than the courts, including cases involving cash bail. Descano called that the number one “disagreement” between his office and judges.
As the dashboard notes, the OCA and courts don’t always agree on when a perpetrator is a “danger to family or household member.” Descano said those disagreements generally relate to domestic violence cases, particularly those involving strangulation.
“We take those really seriously because data has shown that if an intimate partner strangles somebody, they’re seven times more likely to actually murder them,” Descano said.
The OCA also recommended detentions for sex offenses at higher rates than the courts. For felonies, it asked for detainment 89% of the time, while the judges recommended it 52% of the time. For misdemeanors, OCA asked for detainment 58% of the time, with judges agreeing in only 25% of cases.
“It shows me that some judges may not see the same dangerousness to those types of crimes that we do or may value it differently,” Descano said. “We’re not putting this out data to try to slam judges or anything. If anything, it shows [how] different actors in the system view different types of accusations.” Read More
A Herndon police officer won’t face charges after shooting a driver this summer who was waving a handgun at police officers during a police chase, Fairfax County prosecutors announced Friday (Oct. 28).
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said that his review found that the officer was “reasonable” in fearing for his life or serious bodily-harm.
“It wast therefore legally permissible for shooting officer to use the level of force he deployed,” Descano said in a statement. “Accordingly, I find no violations of criminal law on the part of shooting officer and decline to bring any criminal charge against him.”
The investigation by Descano’s office included references to dispatch records, radio communications, reports, interviews, camera footage and physical evidence. The police officer who shot the man did not have a functioning body-worn camera.
The man — who recovered from his injuries — was stopped by a police officer on July 5 after another officer reported that a stolen car was parked at 1110 Elden Street.
The driver and a passenger ran away when the officer approached the car, resulting in a foot pursuit towards Alabama Drive.
The officer who later shot the man and two other officers eventually tracked the driver and passenger to Alabama Drive Park.
When the driver was boxed in near single-family homes on Treeside Lane, the shooting officer said the driver “brandished a pistol,” according to Descano. Another officer warned the shooting police officer of the gun and called on the man to immediately drop his weapon. The shooting officer issued similar warnings.
The officer then fired their gun five times and struck the driver three times. Police apprehended the passenger when she climbed over the brick wall where the driver was cornered to check on him after he was shot.
FFXnow asked the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office whether the driver is facing any charges and for comment on the shooting officer’s body camera not being on, but did not receive responses by press time.
CA Descano's report on the July 5th, 2022 officer involved shooting in Herndon. pic.twitter.com/tUBrUjXa93
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) October 28, 2022
An investigation determined that officers Daniel Houtz and Ryan Sheehan reasonably believed that 37-year-old Christian Parker posed a serious, immediate threat to them and a third officer at the scene, according to a news release from Fairfax County County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.
“This investigation leads me to conclude that both Ofc. Houtz and Ofc. Sheehan were reasonable in fearing that Parker intended to either kill an officer on scene or cause serious bodily injury,” Descano wrote. “…It was therefore legally permissible for both [officers] to use the level of force they employed.”
Descano confirmed that the Fairfax County Police Department had been searching for Parker at the time of the shooting after he fired a gun inside his brother’s apartment in Reston during “an altercation” on June 26.
CA Descano's report on the 6/30/2022 officer involved shooting at Springfield Mall. pic.twitter.com/vnHluKnP4q
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) October 12, 2022
According to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, fugitive detectives obtained a search warrant for Parker’s cell phone, allowing them to track his location. A “ping” alerted Houtz, Sheehan and an officer Monahan that he was at Springfield Town Center around 4 p.m. on June 30.
The officers found Parker’s vehicle in the parking lot outside the mall’s Target and boxed it in while he was in the driver’s seat. As shown in body camera footage released by the FCPD, the officers called for Parker to show his hands multiple times.
According to Descano, the officers reported that they saw Parker reach for a handgun. The officers said in statements that Parker started yelling and waving the gun, eventually moving his finger to the trigger.
“Due to the handgun being swung side to side, Mr. Parker’s finger being on the trigger, and Mr. Paker’s [sic] continued refusal to comply with commands, Ofc. Houltz felt he and Ofc. Monahan were in imminent danger of death and Ofc. Houltz discharged his weapon,” the commonwealth’s attorney said.
Sheehan fired his weapon as well, apparently believing that Parker had shot at Houltz, according to Descano. Both officers fired four shots each, hitting Parker with six of them.
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department transported Parker to a hospital, where he died that afternoon.
According to Descano’s statement, Parker’s fiancée told his office in an interview that she talked to Parker after the incident at his brother’s apartment, and he said “he would rather die than go back to jail.”
It’s unclear whether Parker served time in Fairfax County or elsewhere, but the county’s circuit court told FFXnow that it couldn’t find any past criminal cases under his name. The commonwealth’s attorney’s office said it had nothing to add beyond the released statement.
Descano said the statement from Parker’s fiancée “lends credence” to the police officers’ account of his behavior. While Sheehan was incorrect in thinking that Parker had fired his weapon, the perception “was reasonable based on the facts and circumstances presented to him,” Descano said.
The shooting at Springfield Town Center came during a period of high-profile gun incidents in Fairfax County. Just 10 days earlier, Tysons Corner Center was evacuated after three gunshots were fired, and on July 7, a police officer shot and killed a man in McLean who was experiencing a mental health crisis.
Noah Settles, a 22-year-old from D.C., was indicted last month for the shots-fired incident in Tysons, while the McLean police shooting remains under investigation.
The man who allegedly fired a gun inside Tysons Corner Center this summer, sparking a chaotic evacuation of the mall, is expected to face trial after getting indicted by a Fairfax County grand jury yesterday (Monday).
The circuit court jury indicted Noah Settles, a 22-year-old D.C. resident also known as rapper No Savage, on seven charges that could result in up to 45 years of imprisonment if he’s convicted, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano told FFXnow.
“This really traumatized folks who were in the mall that day and really left a scar on the people in Fairfax County at large,” Descano said of the June 18 incident. “I want people to know that you cannot come into Fairfax County, wave a gun around and shoot off in a crowded building and not expect to be held accountable and to be held accountable severely, and that’s what we’re looking to do here.”
Settles turned himself in on June 22 after the Fairfax County Police Department identified him as the suspect in the shooting, alleging that he had fired three gunshots on a mall concourse after getting into an argument with a rival “crew” based in southeast D.C.
No one was hit by the gunfire, but three people were injured while fleeing, police said. About six weeks later, Tysons Corner Center was evacuated again after the sound of a shattered light fixture prompted panic and unfounded rumors of an active shooter.
Settles was initially charged with attempted malicious wounding, use of a firearm in commission of a felony, and three counts of discharging a weapon into an occupied building.
According to Descano, the grand jury’s indictment included two additional charges for brandishing a firearm and possession of a concealed firearm that prosecutors introduced after a preliminary hearing in Fairfax County General District Court on Aug. 15.
At the hearing, a lawyer for Settles argued that he had acted in self-defense, though a judge found probable cause to send the case to a grand jury, WUSA9 reported. Settles’ defense attorney, Peter Greenspun, didn’t return a request for comment by press time.
Descano says the new charges will enable prosecutors “to fully tell the story of what allegedly happened that day, particularly before the first rounds were fired off.”
“Those two additional charges are vital to producing accountability, which is really what our end goal here is,” he said.
Descano says his office is committed to prosecuting existing gun laws, but he has also argued that more federal and state legislation is needed to address the issue of gun violence, including a closure of loopholes that allow untraceable “ghost guns.”
Just this past weekend, the FCPD responded to two shootings, one in Annandale and another in Woodlawn that ended in the victim’s death.
“Action is needed because we can’t live with this as the new normal,” Descano said. “…When you have guns flooding the streets, what starts as a personal beef can very quickly escalate into shooting, violence, and death.”
A man who sexually abused children for years at a home day care in Annandale has been sentenced to life in prison, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced today (Friday).
Elwood Lewis Thomas, a 38-year-old man from Alexandria, will serve four life sentences and an additional 36 years in prison after being convicted last year on multiple counts of rape, aggravated sexual battery, and sexual penetration with an object, according to Descano’s office.
“We asked that Mr. Thomas be sentenced to life in prison because of his abhorrent history of sexually abusing children,” Descano said in a statement. “My thoughts are with these children and their families as they begin the journey of healing.
CA Descano announced today that an Alexandria man was sentenced to four life sentences plus 36 years after being convicted of two counts of rape, four counts of aggravated sexual battery, and two counts of object sexual penetration last year. pic.twitter.com/OIZ1zF2tnL
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) August 26, 2022
Fairfax County police arrested Thomas in September 2019 and charged him with abusing three kids while they attended Happy Land Daycare from 2006 to 2010. The day care operated in the 6400 block of Holyoke Drive from approximately 1999 to 2012, the police department said at the time.
According to police, Thomas had been employed at the day care and was living in the house between 1999 and 2012. The children were between 4 and 8 years old at the time of the abuse, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney says.
Thomas had previously been arrested for molesting a girl at the day care in June 2012. The girl, then 14, alleged that Thomas had inappropriately touched her on multiple occasions when she was 11 or 12, The Washington Post reported at the time.
For that case, Thomas was convicted in 2013 of aggravated sexual battery of a child under 13. The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney says he was sentenced to eight years in prison, but seven years were suspended, and he was ordered to spend 20 years on probation.
Just days before allegedly raping a woman at her apartment in Reston, Anthony Agee had been released from police custody on bond after being arrested on a felony drug charge, Fairfax County court records show.
Though only 22 years old, Agee has been in county courts on a variety of charges dating back to a Feb. 21, 2017 traffic violation for failing to obey a highway sign, where he paid a $30 fine, according to the General District Court’s online information system.
Though Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano has faced criticism for prosecution decisions some see as overly lenient, his office says Agee wasn’t in custody in part due to a plea deal that prosecutors under his predecessor, Ray Morrogh, offered for an armed burglary attempt that occurred on April 30, 2018.
The deal was approved by a Fairfax County judge and capped the incarceration portion of Agee’s sentence at three years. He was released from jail in December 2020, according to the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
“Our hearts break for the victim of the tragic crime in Reston over the weekend and we will prosecute this case to the full extent of the law,” the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office said.
Since being released from jail, Agee has been arrested four times, including on March 1, 2021 for stealing a vehicle and on Feb. 23 for an incident involving a gun and breaking and entering.
In the March 1 case, Agee was charged with vehicle theft, reckless driving, failure to identify himself to law enforcement, and failure to stop at the scene of an accident. The vehicle theft charge — the only felony — was downgraded to petit larceny, a misdemeanor.
Per court records, Agee didn’t contest the charges at a preliminary hearing on Sept. 1, 2021. The case also included a civil violation for possession of marijuana that was dismissed on Jan. 20 of this year.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge found earlier this month that the incident constituted a violation of Agee’s probation, but the judge took no further action and let him remain out on probation, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Agee’s Feb. 23 arrest stemmed from a shooting at the Paper Moon strip club in Springfield and led to felony charges of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon and entering a structure with the intent to commit assault, battery or another felony, along with a misdemeanor for brandishing a firearm.
Agee was detained, but at an April 4 preliminary hearing, prosecutors dismissed the case without prejudice, according to court records.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office says it asked for a dismissal as a temporary measure, because the case needed further investigation, including DNA testing, search warrants, and other evidence gathering. Read More
A Greenbriar East Elementary School health aide has been indicted on charges for stealing students’ medication, according to the Fairfax County police.
Former Fairfax County Health Department employee Jennifer Carpenter, 45, of Fairfax falsified documentation on prescription medication she gave students, according to a press release. Carpenter dispensed sugar placebo pills and over-the-counter medicine in place of narcotics — including Ritalin, Adderall, and Focalin — that police believe she was keeping for personal use.
During the investigation, detectives identified seven students at the Fair Lakes area school whose medicine was being abused, police said.
Detectives began investigating on May 27 after a health department supervisor noticed a discrepancy in the amount of medication several students maintained at the school, the release said.
Carpenter was indicted on seven counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor; two separate counts of unlawful possession of controlled substances; one count of obtaining drugs by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, embezzlement, or subterfuge; and one count of unlawful dispension of a drug in place of another without permission of the person ordering/prescribing.
In a statement, FCPD Criminal Investigations Division Commander Captain Frederick Chambers said:
As parents, we have an expectation that a person in a position of trust will care for our children. When that trust is broken, we can feel betrayed. Thanks to the swift notification of the health department and schools, our detectives were able to immediately begin their investigation when the discrepancy was noticed. We will continue to hold anyone who abuses their position of power accountable for their actions.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Steven Descano called Carpenter’s actions a “gross breach of trust” in a statement.
“This situation could have easily evolved into a medical emergency for any of the children affected,” the statement reads.
This morning, CA Descano announced the indictment of Jennifer Carpenter on two counts of possession of schedule I or II drugs, one count of adulterated or misbranded drugs, and seven counts of contributing to the delinquency or abuse of a child. pic.twitter.com/YHiaBp9vb2
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) July 21, 2022
If convicted, Carpenter faces a sentence of three to 32.5 years in prison, and up to $25,000 in fines, Descano said.
Police ask anyone with information about the case to call 703-591-0966. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone – 1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), and by web.
Photo via Greenbriar East/Facebook
What to Know About Covid Vaccines for Young Kids — If recommended by the CDC and Virginia Department of Health, COVID-19 vaccines will be available from the Fairfax County Health Department with no appointments needed. Parents should contact their medical provider to see if they will carry the vaccines, which may be harder to find at pharmacies due to a state law that prohibits pharmacists from giving vaccinations to kids younger than 3. [FCHD]
Friends Stunned by Fair Lakes Shooting Deaths — “Now those who knew them are left to reconcile the image of three bodies with memories of an outwardly cheerful trio…who seemed to be always up for a boisterous evening out, for the karaoke nights they enjoyed at Fairfax bars, at Fat Tuesday’s and the Auld Shebeen.” [The Washington Post]
Mosaic District Restaurant Helps Worker After Crash — The Greek restaurant Our Mom Eugenia is helping share a fundraiser for an employee after her daughter was critically injured in last week’s fatal crash in Oakton. The business operator says Katya is “doing well” after being hit by a car while walking home from Oakton High School with her cousin and friend. [NBC4]
Annandale House Fire Started by Lights — Fairfax County fire investigators have determined that a house fire in the 3900 block of Terrace Drive on Saturday (June 11) was started accidentally “by an electrical event involving outdoor string lights” on the backyard deck. The fire displaced seven people and caused approximately $125,000 in damages. [FCFRD]
Victim Says County Prosecutors “Pressured” Her Into Plea Deal — “Julie, not her real name, said she’s been traumatized. First, by a manipulating online predator. Then, by the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.” [ABC7]
Prepare for Change at Springfield Town Center — “PREIT CEO Joe Coradino said his eye is on reshaping the property into something that more closely resembles its title as a town center, with a greater mix of uses. The introduction of additional components, including the planned Lego Discovery Center and seven-story hotel will help further that aim, he said.” [Washington Business Journal]
Historic Reston Distillery Gets Spotlight — “Thank you Virginia Department of Heritage Resources for promoting #Reston landmark A. Smith Bowman Distillery on #NationalBourbonDay! Read about the only legal whiskey distillery in Virginia in its day, which operated until the 1950s” [Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Twitter]
Restaurant Crawl Coming to Fairfax City on Saturday — The Old Town Fairfax City Summer Crawl is a timed, self-guided tour through participating restaurants, which will offer exclusive small plates and drinks from their menus. The free event will unfold from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., letting patrons “support local restaurants…while enjoying a variety of bites and beverages.” [Fairfax City EDA]
It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 85 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]
Kingstowne Man Indicted for Real Estate Loan Scheme — Calling it one of the largest embezzlement cases in Fairfax County history, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office announced yesterday (Monday) that Carlos Camacho has been charged with 15 counts of embezzlement and four counts of forgery. Camacho allegedly used loans to divert more than $2 million from his employer for personal expenses. [DCist]
County Sees Rise in Domestic Violence During Pandemic — “During the first quarter of 2022, our Department of Family Services’ Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) division has seen this trend in real time through its Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline, which has recorded an uptick in the number of domestic violence calls it receives.” [Fairfax County Government]
VDOT to Suspend Highway Work During Memorial Day Weekend — “Based on 2018 and 2019 traffic data, periods of moderate to heavy congestion on those pre-pandemic Memorial Day weekends were most likely to occur between noon and 6 p.m. on Friday and Monday, and midday on Saturday and Sunday, VDOT said in a news release.” [Inside NoVA]
IT Consulting Firm Octo Opens Lab in Reston — “Honored to attend the ribbon cutting for oLab today. With the relocation of groundbreaking companies and the expansion of cutting edge innovation labs in Virginia, we’re going to keep solving problems and making critical breakthroughs right here in the Commonwealth.” [Mark Warner]
Virginia Lawmakers Near a Budget Deal — “State legislators got word Monday that they should return to the Capitol on June 1 to vote on a proposed two-year state budget, even though final details on the spending plan were still being hammered out…Legislators launched the special session in April on his orders but promptly went home because there was no compromise to vote on.” [The Washington Post]
Chantilly Student Collects Medical Supplies and Food for Ukraine — “Nicholas, a student at Fairfax County’s Rachel Carson Middle School, chose to help Ukraine as part of his Eagle Scout project. All donations will be boxed by Nicholas and his fellow Scouts, and then sent to United Help Ukraine, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization founded in 2014.” [Patch]
Deputy Fire Chief Promoted — “Fire Chief John Butler is pleased to announce that Deputy Chief Dan Shaw has been promoted to Assistant Chief with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. Assistant Chief Shaw will head the Office of the Fire Chief, which includes Data Analytics Management, Fiscal Services, Health and Wellness, Information Technology, Planning, and Public Information and Life Safety Education.” [FCFRD]
It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning and afternoon. High of 66 and low of 53. Sunrise at 5:51 am and sunset at 8:24 pm. [Weather.gov]
Fairfax County’s upcoming budget won’t fully resolve funding disparities between public defenders and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Instead, county leaders said they’ll continue working with General Assembly representatives to fix funding disparities, where Fairfax County public defenders say they’re underfunded and underpaid.
“I want to acknowledge the request that we received from that office, and I do recognize the ongoing struggle to create parity between their office and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office,” Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said.
The Board of Supervisors agreed on Tuesday (April 26) to reduce Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office contribution of around $804,000 and funding to add six positions there, changing its local spending of its advertised budget for prosecutors.
Chief public defender Dawn Butorac was unimpressed by the commitment.
“It is incredibly disappointing that the Board continues to gloss over how important we are to the criminal legal system in Fairfax,” she told FFXnow by email. “Their budget decisions demonstrate that the poor and marginalized citizens in this community are not a priority.”
She said the board told her at the budget meeting that they’ve been trying to resolve the pay issues through the General Assembly.
“Many other jurisdictions in Virginia supplement public defender salaries and do so at a rate higher than the 15% supplement in Fairfax,” Butorac wrote. “Several, in fact, have pay parity or are working towards that goal.”
Butorac wanted around $825,000 for her office, up from its current allocation of $525,000. The office also receives $3.9 million in funding from the state.
Last year, the county extended 15% salary supplements for staff in the public defender’s office.
“We must find more sustainable pathways on working with the state to fund the public defender’s office,” Lusk said, noting he’s committed to working with the rest of the board, Butorac, and state legislators on the matter.
Lusk, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ public safety committee, said he would participate if necessary in a hearing or meeting in Richmond on the issue.