Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano (left) and Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Manikas (right) after going through a courthouse security screening (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

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.

Security camera footage shows a sheriff’s deputy and another uniformed officer pass the security checkpoint on their way out of the courthouse (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

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.

A security officer gives a “thumbs up” after checking Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Manikas’s bag (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

“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.

The incident report circulated around conservative blogs and media before being reported by the Sun Gazette and FFXnow yesterday (Thursday).

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.

Both groups argue that his office has failed crime victims by declining to prosecute some misdemeanor cases and offering plea deals that some judges have criticized as inadequate.

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Fairfax County Courthouse (via Google Maps)

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

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Fairfax County Public Schools has asked a federal appeals court to postpone an ordered retrial of a former Oakton High School student’s sexual assault lawsuit, setting up a possible escalation of the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The school system plans to file a petition for a writ of certiorari requesting that the Supreme Court take up the case, according to Public Justice, the nonprofit legal organization that represents the student, who has only been identified as Jane Doe.

Public Justice told FFXnow that it learned about those intentions Monday morning (Sept. 20), though it’s still holding out hope that the Fairfax County School Board will opt not to file the petition.

The law firm warns that, if FCPS files a petition and the appeal is accepted, it could set the stage for a reevaluation of Title IX protections against gender discrimination, which have traditionally been used to address school-based sexual violence, by the same court that allowed Texas to essentially ban abortions earlier this month.

“Fairfax would be asking them to severely undermine students’ civil rights,” Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky, the plaintiff’s counsel, said. “I think there’s a real question for Fairfax families whether they want the legacy of Fairfax schools to be undermining equality and safety for students.”

Filed in May 2018, the lawsuit argues that FCPS violated Doe’s Title IX rights by failing to ensure her safety and provide support after she reported that an older, male student sexually assaulted her when they were on a bus during the five-day school band trip.

The school board’s Sept. 9 regular meeting agenda includes a closed session to consult with legal counsel about the case, known as “Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board et al.”

FCPS confirmed that it has requested the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to stay its June 16 ruling ordering a new trial in Doe’s lawsuit over school officials’ response to her report of being sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a band trip in 2017.

With one judge dissenting, the three-person panel reversed a U.S. District Court jury’s verdict in favor of FCPS, arguing that the lower court had failed to accurately define for the jury the legal standard to determine if the school system had “actual knowledge” of the reported assault.

“As the divergent opinions of the Fourth Circuit show, the issues in this case could have nationwide and potentially far-reaching implications,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said in a statement. “For that reason, we have asked the court to stay or suspend the effective date of its ruling, pending further review.”

FCPS said it had no further comment at this time, including on whether it plans to petition the Supreme Court. Read More

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