(Updated at 9:35 a.m. on 4/18/2023) A Fairfax County grand jury opted not to indict the police officer accused of shooting and killing Timothy Johnson outside Tysons Corner Center in February.
The Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney was scheduled to share an update in the case with a press conference at noon, but the event was canceled after the grand jury’s decision came out. The news was first reported by NBC4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement that he had anticipated the grand jury to come through with an indictment, to the point where he told Johnson’s family this morning that they could expect one.
“I can only imagine their pain and shock when they received the news that the officer — who shot and killed their unarmed son — was not indicted,” Descano said. “Since, by law, no prosecutors were permitted to be present in the room when the investigating officers made their presentation to the grand jury, I can’t say for sure what information was conveyed to the grand jurors. In light of this outcome, I am evaluating all options on the path forward and continue to grieve Timothy’s loss.”
Prosecutors had sought charges for involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.
An attorney representing Johnson’s family said the family had no comment for the time being. The Fairfax County Police Department didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Two police officers shot and killed Johnson, a 37-year-old man from Maryland, after pursuing him by foot across a parking lot at Tysons Corner Center on Feb. 22. He had allegedly tried to shoplift sunglasses from Nordstrom.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis fired one of the officers involved in the shooting last month. While the officer’s name wasn’t mentioned, the Washington Post reported that he was Sgt. Wesley Shifflett, a seven-year veteran of the department who was believed to have fired the fatal shots.
The second officer — previously identified as eight-year veteran James Sadler — was kept on modified restricted duty but remains employed by the FCPD.
In the wake of the shooting, Johnson’s parents and the Fairfax County NAACP have questioned the uptick in shootings by county police under Davis’s tenure, particularly in 2022, and the department’s lack of a policy dictating when officers should engage in a foot pursuit, despite one being recommended.
The FCPD announced on March 3 that it had agreed to let the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) study the recent shootings for broad trends, though the study won’t specifically focus on Johnson’s death.
PERF will also provide guidance to the department for a potential foot pursuit policy.
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.”
A newly awarded grant will help the Fairfax County Circuit Court preserve some historical records dating back to the 18th century, including one map that laid out the battlefield in a small legal war between the county and Alexandria City.
The 4-foot-long, 3-foot-tall Alexandria Annexation Map was impossible to fully photograph in its entirety because of its rough shape, but restoration work should help clear it up, said Heather Bollinger, the historic records manager at the Fairfax County Historic Records Center.
Billinger said the unique map shows many of the Black communities throughout the West End, some of which date back to the aftermath of the Civil War. Some were scattered by racist city policies, like the Ford Ward community, which was converted into a park in the 1960s with little regard for where bodies were buried on the site.
“It was a snapshot of the 1950s,” Billinger said. “You can see where there were smaller communities setting up new neighborhoods, a lot of African American communities.”
Billinger said the maps are a testament to the communities that are now lost to history.
“The map itself is fascinating,” Billinger said. “What’s most interesting about it is: it’s a snapshot in time. What we see on this map is several communities owned by African Americans, like Dowden Terrace.”
Billinger said the maps of that area look very different today.
“Now, that area of Fairfax and Alexandria is heavily developed,” Billinger said. “This is what it looked like before that westward expansion. We don’t have many maps that show that westward expansion. The post-World War II major population explosion was just starting to happen…If you were to do an overlay of the map now, it doesn’t look anything like it did.”
The map came to the forefront of a legal fight in 1951 when Alexandria filed a lawsuit to annex the West End from Fairfax County, citing a need for extra territory and being in a better position to offer utilities to West End residents.
Billinger said similar lawsuits were the common method of sorting out issues of annexation and ceding territory. There was a similar case when the City of Fairfax sought autonomy from Fairfax County. Most of it comes down to who is in a better position to provide utility coverage, Billinger said.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court was awarded a grant for $22,419.50 that will also be used to preserve records related to deeds and land taxes.
In addition to being physically housed at the Historic Fairfax Courthouse, the records will be made available digitally through the circuit court’s online Court Public Access Network, a subscriber-based database that has records dating back to 1742.
Plans are officially in for the massive redevelopment of Fairfax’s judicial complex — a 48-acre swath of land that is slated for redevelopment.
The complex is currently home to Fairfax County’s circuit, general, district and juvenile courts, along with the Historic Fairfax County Courthouse, jail and volunteer organizations.
Over the next 20 years, the county plans to add nearly one million square of development to the complex — bringing the total square footage of development to 2.3 million square feet.
Five new buildings are proposed:
- Building 1 (180,000 square feet): offices for courts, storage for circuit court, police and fire
- Building 2 (180,000 square feet): offices for the county, court supportive services, childcare; early childhood education training center, retail and food service
- Building 3 (190,000 square feet): offices for the county or private use; retail and food service
- Building 4 (150,000 square feet): diversion and community re-entry; short term and long-term supportive housing
- Building 5: 300 affordable housing units and child care
The historic courthouse will also get a new entrance facing West Street.
County officials have envisioned the redevelopment for years in what’s contemplated to be a 20-year plan. Some pieces of the undertaking are currently in progress.
So far, the development team plans to begin constructing the first building to “unlock” the development potential of the remainder of the property. The building will be home to programs currently in the Historic Courthouse, the existing police annex and evidence storage, and the Burkholder building.
Once the programs move into the new building, the Burkholder and police buildings will be demolished to construct affordable housing. That move is intended to “provide some flexibility during the capital renewal of the historic courthouse,” according to the plan.
But the application emphasizes that the development plan could change.
“The applicant reserves the right to construct the new buildings in any order, dependent upon the approved funding from the Board of Supervisors,” it states. “Any and all transportation and/or site improvements required for the use and occupancy of a given building will be constructed at such time as that building is developed.”
To make way for the new features of the project, the Legato School will be relocated, and a building for police annex and evidence storage and another school administration an annex uses will be removed. Parking Garage A will also be demolished.
The master planning process for the project kicked off in 2018 following the demolition of the Massey building. The process concluded last year following a public engagement period and with the goal of more effectively delivering county services to the community.
Five open spaces are planned as part of the project: courthouse grounds, a courthouse plaza, a central green, a gateway promenade and fields near the courthouse.
The gateway promenade — the most prominent of the open spaces proposed — is inspired by the National Mall and will create 20-foot-wide paths, along with possible seating areas and temporary installations.
The apartment units would target households earning around 60% or below of the area median income, according to the application.
The current central road loop around the demolished Massey building will be replaced with a grid of streets that connects to neighboring Fairfax City’s Old Town and creates an urban-block pattern.
The proposal has not been formally accepted for review by the county.
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
(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) An 18-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder in connection to a fatal shooting in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Saturday, the Fairfax County Police Department announced this morning (Wednesday).
Kevin Alexander Lemus was arrested around 7 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday) after police found him in the 7200 block of John Paul Drive in Groveton, FCPD Major Crimes Bureau Cyber and Forensics Commander Maj. Ed O’Carroll said at a press conference.
After his arrest, Lemus was transported to the Fairfax County Public Safety Headquarters, where he confessed to pulling the trigger that killed 19-year-old Annandale resident Darlin Ariel Diaz Flores, according to O’Carroll.
Also charged with possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, Lemus has had over 80 previous encounters with local law enforcement, including “numerous serious contacts,” police say.
“We are all safer with Lemus behind bars,” O’Carroll said. “He chose to have a gun, not his first time. He chose to shoot a man and ultimately take a life. Now, he will face consequences for his actions.”
According to police, Diaz Flores was in Woodlawn after attending a social event in Maryland and was waiting with friends to get a ride home outside an apartment in the 8400 block of Graves Street.
The confrontation that resulted in the shooting started with an exchange of “very simple words” between Diaz Flores and Lemus, who was passing by, O’Carroll said. Police don’t believe the two men knew each other, the department told FFXnow.
Diaz Flores was shot in the upper body, and Lemus fled the scene, police say. After a community member called 911 at 9:34 p.m., police officers found Diaz Flores, and he was transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died shortly after arriving.
According to O’Carroll, FCPD detectives embarked on a multi-day canvass of the neighborhood, where they interviewed witnesses and residents, looked for surveillance footage, and collected forensic evidence from the scene.
“Their important work eventually led to a big break in the case, and Lemus was identified as our killer,” O’Carroll said.
When asked by FFXnow, the FCPD didn’t elaborate on how Lemus was identified as the suspect or his past encounters with local police, stating that it is “not able to discuss juvenile records.”
The gun used in the shooting hasn’t been located, according to the department, which advises anyone with information to contact its detectives at 703-246-7800, option 2, or through Crime Solvers.
Fairfax County General District Court records show that Lemus was already facing three felony charges stemming from an April 20 incident and arrest. He faced two counts of possession of schedule I or II drugs and a related gun possession charge.
A judge had released Lemus in April on a personal recognizance bond of $2,500, the court told FFXnow, though the records don’t show the reasoning behind that decision.
The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney confirmed that the release was the judge’s decision. Fairfax County’s public defender’s office, which is listed on court records as Lemus’s defense attorney, said it had no comment.
Lemus is now being held without bond at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. He’s scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 25 for a hearing on both cases.
Diaz Flores was the 11th person killed by gunfire in Fairfax County this year, according to the police department.
Photo via FCPD/Twitter
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.”
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
While it won’t be quiet around Fairfax County on Monday with Fourth of July celebrations, many government offices and facilities will be closed.
Government offices, and some businesses, are closed for the Independence Day holiday. Public transportation schedules may be lighter and public services, like trash collection, may be changed. See our listing below to get details on what will be open and closed.
Fairfax County government offices will be closed Monday (July 4) in recognition of the Fourth of July holiday, but some facilities are open and schedules vary.
The library system’s branches will be closed on Monday. Animal Control is closed, as it normally is, on Mondays.
The Circuit and District courts will be closed Monday.
The Town of Herndon offices will be closed Monday.
All Park Authority rec centers and golf centers and will be open Monday. Historic sites, nature centers and Green Spring Gardens will be closed. Frying Pan Farm Park Farm and indoor arena will be open while its visitor center will be closed. The River Bend Park Visitor Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
All Neighborhood and Community Service facilities will be closed Saturday (July 2) through Monday. Reston Community Center Hunter Woods will be open Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Lake Anne will be closed on Monday.
The McLean Community Center will be closed.
Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. But Herndon Centennial Golf Course will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.
Fairfax Connector will operate on a Saturday service schedule on Monday. Human Services Transportation (FASTRAN) will not operate on Monday.
On Monday, Metrorail will open at 7 a.m. and close at midnight but last train times vary by station. The Orange Line trains will operate between Vienna and Stadium-Armory only, according to Metro, but free express and local shuttle buses will be provided.
The county advises residents to contact their trash and recycling collector directly for service schedule changes due to the holiday.
The I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex will be closed Monday.
Town of Herndon recycling will be collected Tuesday (July 5) since it is normally collected Monday.
Austin Transit Leader Named New Metro General Manager — “Metro on Tuesday tapped the chief executive of a Texas transit agency to lead the system through safety and pandemic-related challenges that have frustrated riders and strained public transportation…Randy Clarke, 45, will replace Paul J. Wiedefeld, who announced in January that he would retire on June 30″ [The Washington Post]
Fairfax County Firefighter Gets Funeral Procession — “Tuesday marked the final farewell for Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Captain Kimberly Schoppa, who died last month from occupational cancer. Her line-of-duty funeral included a procession and escort to the church, with her flag-draped casket onboard a fire truck and then carried inside by the Honor Guard.” [ABC7]
Jury Awards Tysons Company $2B in Damages — A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury awarded Appian over $2 billion in damages after finding rival software company Pegasystems Inc. stole its trade secrets. Announced yesterday (Tuesday) after a seven-week trial, the damages are the largest ever awarded in Virginia court history, Appian says. [Appian]
County Board Approves New Budget — “On Tuesday morning, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to the fiscal year 2023 budget, which reduces the real estate tax rate by 3 cents. The approved budget did not change from the budget markup the board approved on April 26.” [Patch]
Teachers’ Union Calls for Continued Virtual Learning — The Fairfax Education Association sent a letter to Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand and school board members last week urging them to “continue offering a limited virtual school program for vulnerable students and staff.” FCPS announced in March that it will discontinue the option in the next school year. [WTOP]
Former Reston Association Board President Dies at 84 — “In the words of one reporter, Mike [Freeman Jr.] had a case of chronic community activism for a myriad of Reston organizations, including St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, FISH, and soccer and swim teams. He was a volunteer driver for the first local RIBS bus, and an elected board member of the Reston Association, serving as Board President 1988-89.” [Patch]
County Opens West Falls Church Transportation Survey — “The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) will hold a second round of virtual community meetings to present updates on the West Falls Church (WFC) Active Transportation Study…The public will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide input as well as completing an online survey to provide feedback.” [FCDOT]
Fairfax County Honors Hockey Team and Teachers — The Board of Supervisors recognized the Langley High School ice hockey team yesterday for winning the Northern Virginia School Hockey League championship in February while also completing the season with the least amount of penalties among teams. The board also designated May as Teacher Appreciation Month. [Fairfax County]
Veteran and Military Spouse Career Fair Starts Today — “The free-to-attend event features two days of opportunities for candidates to connect with companies, with in-person sessions between 10:00 am-12:00 pm and 1:00-3:00 p.m. ET on May 11 at the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and a virtual fair taking place from 1:00-4:00 p.m. ET on May 12″ [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]
It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 69 and low of 50. Sunrise at 6:01 am and sunset at 8:12 pm. [Weather.gov]