(Updated at 6:15 p.m.) The Fairfax County police officer who allegedly fired the gunshot that killed Timothy McCree Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center last month will be fired, Chief Kevin Davis announced this afternoon (Thursday).
Davis didn’t identify the officer removed from duty, but the Washington Post reports that Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, a seven-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, is believed to have fired the fatal shots.
The announcement was made at a 1 p.m. press conference, where the FCPD publicly released surveillance and body camera footage of the Feb. 22 encounter, which began with Johnson allegedly shoplifting a pair of sunglasses from Nordstrom and evolved into an extended foot chase.
“As a parent, my heart is still broken,” Melissa Johnson, Timothy’s mother, said. “I feel like I can just breathe a little bit lighter after hearing the announcement today, but we’re still waiting to see exactly what’s going to happen.”
The second officer involved — previously identified as eight-year veteran James Sadler — has been kept on modified restricted duty as a criminal investigation into the shooting continues.
Carl Crews, a lawyer representing the Johnson family, called Shifflett’s firing an “appropriate” move for an apparent violation of the FCPD’s use-of-force policy.
“But we’re not satisfied,” Crews told FFXnow. “The process needs to continue. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office needs to indict. There needs to be a charge against the officer, because a life was taken wrongly.”
The FCPD policy permits the use of deadly force against someone who’s fleeing if they’re suspected of committing a felony and their escape could pose a “significant threat” to others.
It’s unclear exactly where Johnson was in relation to the pursuing officers from the over eight-minute video compilation that the FCPD released. Shifflett can be heard saying that Johnson is going into the woods and yelling “get on the ground.”
He then appears to trip on the underbrush and says “Stop reaching.” The body camera’s lens gets briefly covered up as Shifflett reports “shots fired,” though the video needs to be slowed down and digitally enhanced to hear the three “pops” of gunshots.
Johnson did not have a weapon.
Police have confirmed that both Shifflett and Sadler fired their weapons, which means they both need to be held accountable, Crews argues.
“If [the other officer] was involved in the shooting, firing his weapon…he also violated the Fairfax County police officer policy for the use of deadly force, so he should be fired as well,” Crews said.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay confirmed that a notice of separation was served to one of the officers involved, expressing support for Davis’s decision in a lengthy statement that called the released video “disturbing.” Read More
An expansion of the criminal charges eligible for record-sealing in Virginia has led to a surge in petitions for expungement to Fairfax County’s courts.
Faced with that increased caseload, the courts have moved to streamline the process by no longer requiring those petitioning for an expungement to attend a hearing, the Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney announced last week.
As of March 1, a court hearing is only required if a petition is rejected.
“Previously, individuals would have to come to court for a one-minute hearing, which is a considerable burden if you’re unable to take off work, get childcare, or have other barriers to attending,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said. “Now, individuals can petition for an expungement by filing paperwork, which will be reviewed weekly.”
The process change was initiated by the Fairfax County Circuit Court judges, according to Court Clerk John Frey. It was implemented in a partnership between the judges, the clerk’s office and county prosecutors.
In Virginia, expungement removes criminal records from public view and prohibits access to them without a court order.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court received 701 expungement petitions between March 1, 2022 and March 1, 2023 — about three times more than the 211 petitions taken up the preceding year, according to data provided by Frey.
The court has taken in a total of 1,438 expungements over the past five years, including 168 petitions from March 1, 2018 to March 1, 2019, 200 in 2019-2020 and 158 in 2020-2021.
Frey attributes the increase over the past year directly to new laws adopted by the General Assembly in 2021 that introduced automatic sealing and significantly expanded the kinds of charges that can be sealed with a petition.
“The General Assembly made it much easier to obtain an expungement,” he said.
Currently, Virginia only expunges records if the petitioner is found not guilty, has the charges dropped or dismissed, or gets pardoned. In other words, a conviction will be public forever, regardless of how much time passes or the type of crime.
Under the 2021 law, which will take full effect in 2025, the state will automatically seal dismissed charges, acquittals, certain misdemeanor convictions, and cases where the person completes a “deferred disposition program,” such as Fairfax County’s specialized drug and mental health dockets.
Misdemeanors eligible for automatic sealing include simple marijuana possession, underage drinking, shoplifting, trespassing and disorderly conduct. The person must wait seven years since the conviction and have no new convictions during that time to have their record sealed.
The law also allows individuals convicted of other misdemeanors and Class 5 or 6 felonies to petition for expungement.
While automatic sealing won’t begin until 2025, the law has simplified the petitioning process by eliminating a fingerprint requirement, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center, which says expunging a criminal record typically takes at least nine months.
“A person’s criminal record can follow them around for a lifetime — even if they haven’t been convicted of the charges — potentially limiting their ability to get a job, benefits, or housing,” Descano said. “For people who want to start fresh, old criminal charges can prevent them from stabilizing their lives.”
(Updated at 5:50 p.m.) A former Fairfax County prosecutor who now practices as a private defense lawyer has joined the commonwealth’s attorney race.
Ed Nuttall launched a campaign yesterday (Monday) to challenge incumbent Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano for the Democratic nomination, which will be determined by a primary election on June 20.
“I have spent the last twenty six years living in and trying every kind of case imaginable in Fairfax County. I know how a courtroom works, how to run an effective office, and how to bring people together to keep our communities safe,” Nuttall said in an announcement in front of the Fairfax County Courthouse. “My opponent has shown over the last three years that he clearly doesn’t — that’s why I’m stepping up to run.”
According to his campaign, Nuttall has worked as a trial lawyer for over 26 years.
He joined the county’s commonwealth’s attorney office in 1999, prosecuting criminal and traffic cases, before becoming a member of the Tysons-based firm Briglia Hundley in 2003. In 2015, he launched the private firm Carroll & Nuttall with John Carroll — also a former prosecutor. The firm handles criminal, civil and family law.
During his announcement, Nuttall and his supporters argued that Descano’s “idea of justice for all abandons victims of crime and ignores community safety,” criticisms that have been frequently leveled at Descano and his counterparts in Arlington and Loudoun since they were all elected in 2019 on promises of progressive reforms.
In a statement on Nuttall’s announcement, Descano lambasted his opponent as having “spent the last 20 years of his career defending bad cops that give our good police departments a black eye.”
Nuttall has “represented law enforcement in over twenty police shooting cases since 2002, serving as General Counsel to the Fraternal Order of Police Fairfax Lodge 77,” according to his official bio.
“In a time when Democrats nationwide are grappling with the need for police reform, to have the police union’s on-the-payroll defense attorney pretend to be an independent actor when it comes to holding bad cops accountable is a farce that Democrats in Fairfax County will see through,” Descano said. “My relationship with the police is a good one because they know I’m a trustworthy partner in public safety and that I won’t hesitate to hold bad cops accountable which is something all good officers want.”
Descano confirmed to FFXnow that he will run for reelection in December and officially launched his campaign last month.
Nuttall announced yesterday that he has already won the support of Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), who are both seeking reelection this year.
In statements, Petersen commended Nuttell as “an experienced trial lawyer that understands how the courtroom works,” while Kincaid said “he has the experience and the integrity needed to do the job.”
“We are living in a time where criminal justice reform is on everyone’s mind,” Kincaid said. “It’s not enough to simply talk about progress. It’s important that we make progress. To make progress, you have to have the competence to get real things done.”
Photo via ABC7
A prison sentence is pending for the man who fired gunshots in Tysons Corner Center on Father’s Day weekend last summer, triggering a panicked evacuation.
Noah Settles, a 23-year-old D.C. resident also known as the rapper No Savage, pleaded guilty to four felony charges related to the incident, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced today (Thursday).
He will serve at least three years in prison, with a potential maximum sentence of 33 years.
“When I came into office, we promised to take serious crimes seriously,” Descano said in a statement. “I can think of few more serious crimes than this: taking a gun and firing into a crowded, public space, endangering the safety of our community members and visitors, disrupting public life, and threatening their future sense of safety.”
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury indicted Settles on seven charges in September after he fired three gunshots in one of the D.C. area’s busiest malls on June 18. Stores in Tysons Corner Center were locked down, and visitors reported people screaming and fleeing what they feared was an active shooter.
No one was injured by the gunfire, but three people were taken to the hospital with injuries that occurred during the evacuation, Fairfax County police said at the time.
The Fairfax County Police Department later identified Settles as their suspect, describing the incident as an escalation of a verbal argument between two D.C. “crews.” He turned himself in at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center on June 22.
In a hearing today, where prosecutors showed footage compiled from mall surveillance cameras and bystanders’ phones, Settles pleaded guilty to three counts of maliciously discharging a firearm in an occupied building and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, according to Descano’s office.
He had also been charged with felony attempted malicious wounding and two misdemeanors for brandishing a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon.
With the plea, Settles will avoid a trial that had been scheduled to begin Monday (Feb. 13). A sentencing hearing is set for June 23.
“Today’s outcome guarantees accountability for every piece of this incident,” Descano said. “The defendant is pleading guilty to the most serious charges, giving the judge the opportunity to craft a sentence commensurate with seriousness of crime.”
Since the June 18 incident, Tysons Corner Center has been the site of two other gun scares, one of which stemmed from a shattered light fixture and the other related to a jewelry store robbery.
An Arlington man was indicted by a Fairfax County grand jury yesterday for allegedly shooting and killing Gret Glyer, founder and CEO of the nonprofit crowdfunding platform DonorSee.
Joshua Danehower, 33, faces felony charges for murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, the Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney announced today.
Fairfax City police found Glyer shot to death in his Bolton Village Court home on June 24, 2022. They were called to the house by Glyer’s wife, who was home at the time with their two children, according to NBC4.
Glyer was 32 when he was killed. It was the city’s first homicide since 2008, police said at the time.
Danehower was arrested at Dulles International Airport five days later. Police identified him as an acquaintance of the family — possibly through their church — though court documents indicated that he was an ex-boyfriend of Glyer’s wife and had been seeking to “reconnect” with her, FOX5 reported.
According to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, detectives said at a preliminary hearing that they identified Danehower as the suspect “through analysis of the bullet casings found on the scene.”
“My office takes violent crimes like these very seriously, and we are grateful to Dets. Trey Lightly and Matthew Greene for their excellent work on this case in pursuit of justice for the victim’s family and the community,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement.
Glyer founded DonorSee in 2016, inspired by his time living in Malawi, where he helped start the Girls Shine Christian Academy, according to the nonprofit’s website. The platform supports donations to charity projects and nonprofits, raising $6 million for nearly 14,000 different projects.
The trial date for the case will be determined tomorrow (Thursday), according to Descano’s office.
Danehower is being represented by the Fairfax County Office of the Public Defender, which told FFXnow that it has no comment.
Photo via DonorSee/YouTube
A bus driver was indicted by a grand jury yesterday (Tuesday) for allegedly driving drunk while transporting D.C. kindergarten students home from a trip to Cox Farms in Centreville.
Troy Reynolds, 48, faces nine felony charges of child endangerment and three misdemeanor charges, including a second offense of driving while intoxicated, driving with a disqualified commercial license, and driving a bus without a commercial driver’s license, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced today.
“My office takes crimes that endanger children very seriously,” Descano said in the press release. “We’re grateful to our partners at the Fairfax County Police Department for their collaboration on this case.”
CA Descano announced that a grand jury indicted Troy Reynolds, 48, for charges related to driving a school bus full of kindergartners while intoxicated. pic.twitter.com/UAJZvcnjpF
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) December 21, 2022
Reynolds was arrested on Oct. 27 after he reportedly drove a school bus carrying 44 students and four adults from Murch Elementary School off the road, hitting a rock and flattening a tire. Nine kids were injured, according to Descano’s office.
At the insistence of staff on board, the bus stopped in the 1500 block of Conference Center Drive in Chantilly, and the kids were transferred to the Fairfax Criminal Justice Academy, where two buses provided by Fairfax County Public Schools took them to D.C.
The FCPD said at the time that a test revealed that Reynolds had a blood alcohol content of .20. Officers also found that his commercial driver’s license had been revoked in Virginia due to a prior DWI and suspended in Maryland.
The case will go to trial tomorrow (Thursday), according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
A trio of local nonprofits that assist people who have experienced abuse and domestic violence got a little funding boost last week, courtesy of Fairfax County prosecutors.
On Thursday (Dec. 15), the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney named the Women for Afghan Women (WAW) and United Community’s Progreso Literacy and Citizenship Center as the inaugural recipients of its new Community Partnership Grants, which are intended for organizations that serve victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and crimes against children.
Funds were also awarded to SafeSpot, which provides advocacy and support services to child victims of sexual and physical abuse and their families.
“My office is proud to partner with these three organizations that provide resources for victims,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a news release. “I am personally grateful for the work they do in our community — supporting victims throughout the legal process and helping them on the path to healing and recovery is critical work and will help make our community stronger and safer.”
CA Descano is proud to announce the recipients of our office's first Community Partnership grants.
These organizations received grants of $8,000 – to be used for programs and services that directly support victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and child victims of crime. pic.twitter.com/VR8ulqJTZh
— Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Descano (@FairfaxCountyCA) December 15, 2022
The $8,000 grants are funded by proceeds from asset forfeiture, where law enforcement can seize and retain or sell property involved in a crime. Descano’s office didn’t share how much it gets from forfeitures but said it can grant up to $25,000 per year.
In Virginia, forfeited assets and the proceeds from any sales are put into a Department of Criminal Justice Services fund and then distributed back to the agencies that participated in the investigation that led to the seizures.
The money must be used “to promote law enforcement,” which could include victim services and other efforts to build relationships and encourage cooperation with the community, per state law.
The application for the Community Partnership Grants program asked organizations how they would use the grant to “support law enforcement, or improve the relationship between law enforcement and the Fairfax community.”
According to its website, SafeSpot is partnered with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the Fairfax County Police Department, among others, as part of its work to help victims and their families navigate criminal investigations and court proceedings.
Though headquartered in New York, WAW established an office in the Springfield area earlier this year that provides basic needs support, immigration-related legal services, counseling and educational classes to Virginia’s Afghan community, which is the second-largest in the country.
“The need for direct and comprehensive services has only increased since last summer,” WAW Program Manager Mariam Kakar said. “As the only Afghan-led organization that supports survivors of domestic violence, we look forward to using these funds to help many individuals and families in our local community.”
Founded in 1969 by faith groups and volunteers, United Community offers supportive services, such as food assistance, crisis intervention and more, with the goal of ending poverty, specifically along the Route 1 corridor.
Located in the Gerry Hyland Government Center in Mount Vernon, the Progreso center provides education, citizenship classes and legal services to immigrants, including survivors of domestic violence.
“As the leading human services non-profit agency in southeastern Fairfax County, United Community seeks out opportunities to collaborate with our allies throughout the community,” said Alison DeCourcey, the nonprofit’s president and CEO. “We’re grateful to Commonwealth’s Attorney Descano and his office for this grant, which will dramatically help us improve our reach and services to immigrants who are survivors of domestic violence.”
Descano, who is planning to seek reelection next year, hopes to make the community partnership grants an annual program, according to his office.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano is gearing up for what may be the most heated local election race in 2023.
The first-term chief prosecutor, who defeated a longtime incumbent in 2019 on the strength of a progressive platform, is planning to seek reelection next year, a representative for Descano confirmed to FFXnow.
An official announcement is expected to come soon, another spokesperson said.
Over the last three years, Descano has championed reform policies including a diversion program for those who commit non-violent crimes, increased transparency of bond hearing data, and an end to cash bail.
Like Arlington’s Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and Loudoun’s Buta Biberaj, who were also elected in 2019 as reform advocates, Descano has been accused of being “soft on crime” and mishandling certain cases, with those involving sexual violence receiving particular scrutiny. He was also the focus of two recall campaigns last year.
In a statement to FFXnow, Descano touts his record as a “progressive” who has helped the county become “the safest jurisdiction of its size anywhere in the country, saying he’s been “encouraged by many over the last year to continue this work.”
I plan on making an announcement soon regarding the 2023 election. Since first being elected in 2019 I have worked each day to deliver safety and justice for our community. I’m proud of what we have accomplished, delivering progressive criminal justice reform including investments in “next generation” diversion programs, increased use of Veterans Treatment and Mental Health dockets, creating a Red Flag Law team aimed at getting guns out of someone’s hands who poses a danger, and leading a more transparent office by the launch of a public Data Dashboard on our work.
These and other reforms have helped deliver a justice system led by our values all while making Fairfax County the safest jurisdiction of its size anywhere in the country. I have been encouraged by many over the last year to continue this work. I am grateful for that encouragement and also for the widespread community support that has resulted in us having over $100,000 in campaign funds on hand one full year prior to the next election. This shows the strength and breadth of the support from those that want to keep Fairfax County’s justice system moving forward.
Four years ago, Decano was part of a wave of Northern Virginia progressive prosecutors to be elected as their localities’ top law enforcement officer.
In Arlington, Dehghani-Tafti launched her reelection campaign late last month. Biberaj hasn’t yet declared her intentions for next year.
Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid is also planning to run for reelection in 2023, she told FFXnow by email, though she didn’t elaborate on her reasoning.
Kincaid was first elected in 2013 in a special election, becoming the first woman to lead the office in its nearly three centuries of existence. She was reelected in 2015 and 2019, so this will be her fourth time running. Read More
A man already serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 2002 has pleaded guilty to killing a woman in Herndon 35 years ago.
The Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney announced today that Charles Helem was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering 37-year-old Eige Sober-Adler, whose body was found in a field near the Dulles Toll Road on Sept. 8, 1987.
Helem is facing a third life sentence for the 2002 murder of 19-year-old Jennifer Landry in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He’s currently incarcerated at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison for strangling 37-year-old Patricia Bentley in her Chantilly home in April 2002.
“Today, the community can begin to move toward peace and closure,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement. “I am grateful for the cooperation across agencies and jurisdictions that helped solve this case, including from Fairfax Police Chief Kevin Davis, Prince George’s Police Chief Malik Aziz, and the cold case detectives in both jurisdictions.”
Helem was indicted in Sober-Adler’s murder by a Fairfax County grand jury in January after providing information about her death that only the suspect would know, Davis said at a joint press conference with Prince George’s police, who shared that Helem had confessed in 2021 to killing Landry.
According to The Washington Post, Sober-Adler was found nude and beaten by construction workers in a field near a Days Inn that was under construction in Herndon on Sept. 8, 1987. Her car was found nearby on the shoulder of the westbound lanes of the Dulles Toll Road.
An autopsy determined that her skull had been fractured, and she suffered a “cerebral hemorrhage caused by an unknown object,” the Post reported.
After his sentencing today, Helem is being transferred to Prince George’s County, where he’s set to plead guilty to Landry’s murder. He will serve all three life sentences concurrently, the Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney confirmed to FFXnow.
The owners of Sully’s Pour House, a gastropub in the Town of Herndon, is disappointed over the handling of prosecution against a man who allegedly fired a gun in the business on Nov. 6 last year.
In a scathing Nov. 30 Facebook post, the owners said the justice system failed the business and the community by not taking a tougher stance on the case, accusing the office of Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano of trivializing “a stressful, frightening, and unsafe situation.”
“Where is MY PROTECTION? I didn’t ask your office to move mountains. I expected your office to PROTECT OUR COMMUNITY. There were MULTIPLE FELONIES committed that night. I only asked for ONE TO stick. One FELONY,” the business wrote in the post.
The defendant, De’Quinn Le’Charn Hall, 29, has been indicted on a felony charge of discharging a firearm in an occupied building. A plea deal was offered but hasn’t been officially accepted by the court. A Fairfax County Circuit Court grand jury will take up the matter on Dec. 22.
The post by Sully’s includes allegations that additional charges were not pursued in order to avoid impacting the defendant’s commercial driver’s license. It also states that the case was not handled seriously because no one was killed in the incident.
“HE jeopardized LIVES and your office cared about his job?!” the post says. “We still have people traumatized, but why would you care about them.”
Laura Birnhbaum, a spokesperson for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, emphasized that the investigation is still ongoing. She also disputed some statements in the post, including its characterization of how one of the assistant commonwealth’s attorneys interacted with the victim and the police department.
“This case is ongoing and no final resolution has been presented to or accepted by the court,” she said. “CA Descano is reviewing this case and will determine the proper path forward. We want this community to know that we take these types of crimes seriously and will always seek final outcomes in line with the seriousness of the alleged conduct.”
Photo via Google Maps