Video of an encounter between Fairfax County’s top prosecutor and security personnel at the county courthouse does not appear to be consistent with some of the allegations leveled in a Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office incident report.
The report claims Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and a colleague lost their tempers during a courthouse security screening. According to the Sept. 30 report, Descano and Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Kyle Manikas questioned and cursed at security officers when directed to go through a metal detector upon entering the Fairfax County Courthouse at 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 28.
But the two main triggers that the report says prompted Descano and Manikas to display “disrespect” and “unprofessional conduct” toward the security guards are absent from the video, notes a courthouse source who has also seen the footage viewed by FFXnow.
The report states that, after seeing two law enforcement officers in full uniform bypass the checkpoint and being told by the security guards that uniformed law enforcement officers were exempt from the mandatory security screening, Descano responded by saying “That’s bullshit,” “Don’t you know who I am?”, and “I’m the top law enforcement officer in Fairfax County.”
While no audio was recorded, courthouse security camera footage provided by the sheriff’s office does not show any uniformed law enforcement officers coming into the building and passing the security checkpoint.
Around the time Descano arrives, a sheriff’s deputy and a uniformed man wearing a vest emblazoned with the logo for the security company Brink’s walk by the checkpoint, but they are leaving the courthouse, not entering.
The sheriff’s office report, which is signed by both a deputy and a supervisor, states that the two security guards gave statements and that facility security “provided a video to corroborate the visual part of the incident.”
“We do not have any comments about the report,” the sheriff’s office said when asked about the discrepancies between its incident report and the security camera video.
The report also says Manikas “was visibly upset about being screened and kept saying ‘This is f**king bulls**t.'”
According to the report, Manikas also became upset when told that the x-ray machine detected a knife in his lunch bag and that an additional search of the bag was needed, claiming that there was no knife in the bag.
After a security officer “rotated the screen of the x-ray around to show CDCA Kyle Manikas the image he was looking at,” the report claims the prosecutor stated, “This is f**king bulls**t, I know you are doing your job, but this is bulls**t.” A search of the bag revealed a butter knife.
In the video, however, when one of the security officers gestures that he needs to look through Manikas’s backpack, Manikas unzips the bag and opens what appears to be a lunch box without any visible hesitation. The officer doesn’t show Manikas a screen, and his side of the x-ray machine is inaccessible to visitors, blocked by the tables where people collect their belongings after getting screened.
“As the full video reflects, the report paints an inconsistent picture of what actually occurred,” Benjamin Shnider, chief of staff for the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, said in a statement to FFXnow.
Descano and Manikas were not available to comment directly.
Descano has become a target of conservatives since he was one of three Northern Virginia prosecutors elected in 2019 on criminal justice reform platforms, including pledges to stop prosecuting marijuana possession, end the use of cash-bail and the death penalty, and reduce mass incarceration.
Like his reform-minded counterparts in Arlington and Loudoun, Descano is currently facing a recall effort spearheaded by Virginians for Safe Communities, a group led by Republican operatives and funded by undisclosed donors.
A separate group called Stand Up Virginia launched its own recall campaign against Descano in April.
An incident report from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office alleges that two of the county’s top prosecutors clashed with security guards when asked to undergo a security screening to enter the Fairfax County Courthouse.
The sheriff’s office states in the Sept. 28 incident report that Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and his chief deputy displayed “disrespect and unprofessionalism” that was “unsuited for an officer of the court.”
When asked to go through metal detectors at the courthouse at around 9:37 a.m. that day, Descano reportedly asked why two uniformed law enforcement officers didn’t go through security. When told by two security officers that law enforcement was exempt, Descano said “That’s bullshit!” and then asked “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the top law enforcement officer in the county,” according to the incident report.
The courthouse routinely requires security screening of all employees and attorneys at the request of the Courthouse Security Committee, which is chaired by Chief Judge Penny Azcarate. Descano reportedly stated that he was exempt from the security screening because of his position.
Descano’s office declined to comment on the incident report. FFXnow has not viewed security footage that the incident report purports corroborates the “visual part of the incident.”
It’s unclear whether Descano and his chief deputy were aware of a new screening policy that appears to have contributed to the verbal altercation.
Under the new security policy, which began on Sept. 1, on randomly selected days, every person entering the courthouse must take part in security screenings.
This requires all individuals to walk through a magnetometer and for all bags, briefcases, purses, parcels, and electronic devices to be screened by an X-ray machine, according to the county’s website, which did not provide information about the new policy until yesterday morning (Wednesday).
A Fairfax County Circuit Court clerk declined to comment on all of FFXnow’s questions, including why the new policy was put in place, why uniformed law enforcement officers are exempt, and how it differs from the court’s previous procedures, including an option that allows attorneys to bypass security screenings.
According to the report, Kyle Manikas, the chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney, took issue with a security search of his lunch bag when a knife was detected in the metal detector screening.
“This is fucking bullshit, I know you are doing your job, but this is bullshit,” Manikas reportedly said, as quoted in the incident report. He was described as “physically upset.”
A butter knife was found in the bag.
The incident report concluded that the security officers experienced “disrespect, curse and abuse, and unprofessional conduct.”
Angela Woolsey contributed to this report. Photo via Google Maps