(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
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay plans to introduce a board matter next week that would direct county staff to analyze a road safety measure called turn calming.
The measure would direct staff to look at cities like Portland and New York City that have established turn calming programs, as recommended in a March 1 letter from the county’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways (TSB) Committee.
McKay plans to introduce the matter when the board meets Tuesday (March 21).
“When it comes to pedestrian safety in particular, we need every possible tool in our tool box,” McKay told FFXnow.
After a year that saw a high number of pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County, the TSB wrote to McKay endorsing a turn-calming program as one way to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the county.
A turn calming program would make alterations to intersections with the goal of bringing down vehicle speeds during turns and reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
In an addendum to the letter, the TSB points to an education campaign, physical improvements such as “hardened” center lines, and other strategies as “essential components” of a turn calming program.
Shawn Newman, who represents the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling on the TSB, says turn calming would push transportation planners to rethink how intersections are designed.
Right now, many right turn corners in the county are designed so that cars can make them at “a relatively high rate of speed,” he explained.
“A simple fix such as bumping the corner out a bit and making it closer to a 90-degree angle will force vehicles to slow down and be more careful on the turn,” Newman said. “Left turns can also be made safer by extending out the median to again force vehicles to slow down and drive more carefully.”
According to the TSB committee’s letter, intersections were the location of 54, or 45%, of the county’s pedestrian-involved vehicular crashes recorded in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Crash Analysis Tool between 2015 and October 2022.
“Intersection-related accidents are likely due to several factors that would be addressed by a turn-calming program: many drivers are traveling at too high a speed through intersections, cut corners and accelerate through intersections, and have limited awareness of potential presence of pedestrians,” TSB Chairman Kenneth Comer wrote in the letter.
The TSB letter comes after the Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed a Safe Streets for All program in May 2022. The letter identifies a turn calming program as the “most promising” step to prioritize along the county’s major arterial roads in addition to the program’s recommendations.
“It’s good that they passed that…but it hasn’t accomplished its goal yet,” Newman said. “The streets are not safe yet.”
VDOT maintains practically all of the county’s public roads, so the state agency would have to be involved. If the measures work, McKay says he would fight for them to be implemented.
“I don’t want to spend any resources on things that don’t statistically work,” McKay said.
The TSB letter also recommends the county resist any efforts by VDOT to remove a crosswalk at the Braddock Road and Kings Park Drive intersection in West Springfield, where a pedestrian was killed in December.
Northern Virginia leaders are taking steps to assist victims of the earthquake that devastated Turkey and Syria in early February.
In an effort organized by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC), elected leaders plan to announce a local aid program to collect funds that will be used to purchase food packages for those affected by the disaster.
In a release, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay said the profound loss of life in Turkey and Syria is heartbreaking.
”But I’m proud to be a part of a community that rallies together to help those in need both regionally and internationally,” McKay said.
The goal is to raise $25,000, according to NVRC Executive Director Robert Lazaro Jr. The money will be used to purchase more than eight tons of food. Each package contains 30 pounds of food and costs $45.
“We are working with [the nongovernmental organization Embrace Relief] that is purchasing food packages in Turkey which in turn are distributed to area residents,” Lazaro said in a release.
NVRC Chair John Chapman said residents and businesses have always stepped up to help those in need. Previously, the region collaborated on a winter clothes drive that sent tons of blankets, coats, socks and gloves to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.
“This time is no different. I urge folks to visit the website to make a donation to provide food to those families tragically impacted by the earthquake,” said Chapman.
Members of Fairfax County’s Virginia Task Force 1 search and rescue team were deployed to Turkey and Syria after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit on Feb. 6, killing thousands of people and displacing millions. As of yesterday (Wednesday), the death toll reached roughly 51,000 people.
The task force, which was part of a national response team assembled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), returned to Fairfax County on Feb. 20 after 11 days of searching for survivors.
Leaders will officially announce the program at the Fairfax County Government Center Forum on Friday (March 3) at 3 p.m. In the meantime, the commission has set up a link to collect donations for the victims.
Photo via VA-TF1/Twitter
Fairfax County officials have waited a decade now for public school buses to be outfitted with video cameras, and their patience is wearing thin.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday (Feb. 7) asking Fairfax County Public Schools to explain why it has yet to implement a school bus stop-arm camera program that staff started exploring back in 2013.
The supervisors emphasized the program’s urgency after a year of surging pedestrian fatalities, including some crashes that killed students but didn’t directly involve school buses.
“It’s inconceivable to me that the school board or school administration has ignored this opportunity to make our children safe,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “…You don’t have to be on the roads very long around here to see people passing school buses. Something bad is going to happen if we don’t implement this program.”
FCPS “is working with a vendor and the contract is in review,” a spokesperson told FFXnow, but it had no further comment on the delays or a possible timeline going forward.
Failing to stop when a school bus is loading or unloading students is prohibited in Virginia, which imposes a civil fine of $250 for violations.
After the state gave localities the authority to let their schools install video-monitoring systems in 2011, Foust led the county board in directing staff on Oct. 29, 2013 to work with FCPS on adding cameras, according Chairman Jeff McKay’s board matter.
What followed, however, was a flurry of legal questions requiring more state legislation to clarify that police departments can mail summons to violators and permit vendors access to Department of Motor Vehicles data.
Once those concerns were resolved, FCPS staff notified Foust’s office in January 2020 that a vendor had been selected and contract negotiations were underway — only for COVID-19 to put those talks on hold.
FCPS procurement staff then learned in April 2021 that their contact for the vendor had left the company, leaving them unsure whether the existing offer was still viable.
In December 2021, McKay sent a letter to then-Fairfax County School Board chair Stella Pekarsky proposing that a camera program be in place by summer 2022, but neither the school board nor FCPS responded.
After getting an “informal” update this past December, McKay says he has “lost my patience with the excuses that seem to come up from the working group repeatedly,” which he reported range from the disruptions of the pandemic to questions about the availability of police resources. Read More
Fairfax County’s top priorities for 2023 will be increasing mental health services, boosting police retention, addressing commercial office vacancies, and improving pedestrian safety, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.
Adequately addressing those needs, though, requires more financial help and local authority from Virginia’s General Assembly, he told FFXnow in an interview.
With the county increasingly reliant on real estate taxes, officials expect this budget cycle to be one of the most challenging in a decade.
As property values rise, the tax burden on property owners is already “significant” and hurting residents, McKay said. To not “exacerbate” the situation, the county likely needs to lower the real estate tax rate.
“I personally believe absolutely we have to reduce the tax rate as a part of this next budget,” McKay said.
Continued recovery from the pandemic is paramount, informing all the board’s priorities for the upcoming year, McKay said.
While economic recovery from the pandemic tends to get a lot of attention, there remains “a lot of work to do” on human services, according to the chairman.
“The thing that keeps me up at night is the ongoing growth of mental health challenges, especially with some of our young people,” McKay said. “I do think that a good chunk of that is a byproduct of what we’ve been through with Covid.”
Mental health-related challenges affect everything from police calls to unemployment and schools, he said. The county’s current budget gave close to $186 million to the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which provides support services.
McKay believes the state’s $37 million contribution isn’t enough, arguing that mental health funding should be “primarily a state responsibility.”
“This is something the state has to get really serious about addressing,” he said. “Frankly, if they provided the level of support that the county did, we probably wouldn’t have near the mental health challenges in Virginia that we have now.”
Increasing mental health services could mean more educational programs, staffing, and supportive programs.
It also ties into public safety, as the Fairfax County Police Department struggles with understaffing and retention. McKay says officers are being asked to take on responsibilities that they shouldn’t have to handle.
“Increasingly our police are almost being asked to be mental health clinicians [when then are] mental health service calls,” he said. “It’s stressing them out and getting people not interested in joining police departments.”
In 2021, the county instituted a co-responder program where a crisis intervention specialist joins police officers on certain mental health-related calls. Alongside the county’s Diversion First program, launched in 2016, it provides treatment to individuals instead of incarceration. McKay says the programs need to “grow dramatically.” Read More
The Fairfax County Police Department has revised how its officers respond to “swatting” after seeing a noticeable uptick in such incidents in recent years.
“Swatting” is a form of harassment involving false 911 calls that are intended to draw a heavy law enforcement response, such as a SWAT team, putting the target in a potentially life-threatening situation.
As of Dec. 6, the FCPD had recorded 12 swatting incidents this year, a decline from the 30 seen in 2021 but still significantly higher than the three reported in 2018 and five in 2019, according to data provided to FFXnow. Incidents have climbed into the double digits since 2020, when there were 11.
“As you can tell they have risen over the years,” said Sgt. Lance Hamilton with the police department’s public affairs bureau. “As a result, we have updated our General Orders regarding the response to ‘Swatting’ events in August of this year.”
Effective Aug. 11, the department’s hostage and barricade procedures now includes a specific subsection on potential swatting incidents:
Officers should factor in, prior to attempting to make contact with any individual at a location where a report of a hostage or barricade incident has been communicated through the Department of Public Safety Communications (DPSC), whether or not the incident constitutes a false “swatting” incident. Officers should consider whether the scene matches the 9-1-1 call description and follow-up with criminal investigations of making a false report to police whenever possible.
Officers should consider “if they have legal authority, what are the potential dangers posed to the community/officers, and is there a need for additional specialized resources from our Operations Support Bureau,” Hamilton said.
“In most cases, this is handled by the department’s de-escalation techniques of using time and distance to slow things down,” Hamilton said. “As you can imagine this is a difficult balance when someone calls 911 regarding an active event.”
The policy change came after community members filed complaints about two separate incidents with the county’s Police Civilian Review Panel, which reviews FCPD investigations into abuse of authority and misconduct allegations.
In one case, police were called to an Annandale townhome at 4 a.m. on March 8, 2020 after a man who claimed to be a neighbor called 911 twice, saying the women who lived there were yelling and fighting. The women said the responsing officers knocked excessively and didn’t identify themselves, leading them to not answer the door right away.
In the other, the FCPD sent a full SWAT team to a home after a 911 caller reported shots being fired “during a likely domestic disturbance,” according to the panel’s 2021 annual report.
While the panel found no misconduct in either case, it expressed surprise at the lack of a follow-up investigation into the 911 caller in the first case and suggested that the FCPD reconsider its policies.
“While the Panel is aware that certain rules concerning 9-1-1 procedures are set at the Commonwealth-wide level, it is our hope that the FCPD and the county can work together to make sure that procedures and laws are in place such that the frequency of such dangerous incidents is greatly minimized,” the annual report said. Read More
(Updated at 1:15 p.m. on 11/30/2022) Local officials are already preparing for “one of the most challenging” budget talks in years due to inflation, the changing real estate market, and staff retention challenges.
Right before the Thanksgiving holiday, Fairfax County staff offered supervisors and the school board an early look at projected revenues, expenditures, and points of potential discussion as the county and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) prepare to release proposed budgets early next year.
The fiscal year 2024 budget forecast that staff presented on Nov. 22 didn’t paint a particularly rosy picture, however.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay called the forecast “a real mixed bag.” County staff said that generated revenue remained “healthy,” but others weren’t so sunny.
“This is probably going to be one of the most challenging budgets in my 11 years on the [school] board,” Braddock District School Board representative Megan McLaughlin said. “It’s going to be a tough one.”
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity concurred, saying there wasn’t “a lot of good news in here.”
As is the case across the country, the local real estate market has been slowing due to increasing interest rates and rising prices. While it increased from last year, growth is expected to flatten going forward for the rest of 2022 and into 2023.
Non-residential tax revenue is in even worse shape, at least partially due to the change in work-from-home habits resulting from the pandemic. It’s expected to increase by only 0.6% compared to last year when the growth was about 2.3% compared to 2022.
While hotel, retail, and apartment revenues are all expected to increase next year, office revenue is expected to decline between 5% and 6%, raising concerns among some supervisors and school board members.
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said he has talked to companies in the county that have no intention of renewing office leases due to decreased need with more employees now teleworking.
He called it a “slow-moving crisis” that could create a “very significant hole” in terms of missing revenue.
“[This] is very troubling,” Walkinshaw said. “It’s a structural challenge now in our economy…I’m not confident we have our arms around what that challenge is going to look like over the next 5 to 10 years.”
New construction and transient occupancy (or lodging) tax revenue are also expected to grow, but at much lower rates than prior to the pandemic.
Real estate taxes are the largest source of revenue for the county, providing more than two-thirds of generated money. Last year, home values soared, while commercial tax revenue dropped, resulting in a 3-cent decrease in the real estate tax rate.
All told, revenue is predicted to rise by about $266 million, a 3.8% increase from last year, per the presented forecast.
However, revenue isn’t keeping pace with expenditures, due mostly to anticipated staff salary increases.
Between recruitment and retention challenges and inflation, an additional $159 million will be needed for salaries and benefits compared to the current budget — plus another $113.5 million for school staff. Adding in other costs, the county and FCPS are looking at a combined shortfall of about $125 million for fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, 2023, staff said.
Since this is a baseline forecast, a number of county and school priorities were not taken into account, including infrastructure upgrades, increased investments in affordable housing, and an expansion of early childhood education programs.
As county staff and McKay both reiterated, the forecast is only an estimation subject to change.
“As the economic outlook is uncertain, staff is approaching FY 2024 revenue forecasting very conservatively,” the presentation said.
Adoption of the fiscal year 2024 budget remains six months away. Advertised budget plans for the county and schools will be released in February with final votes coming in May 2023.
(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) The Virginia Department of Education has no clear timeline for when its new policies on the treatment of transgender students will take effect, leaving Fairfax County Public Schools and other local school districts waiting to see if the state makes any changes in response to vocal opposition to the proposal.
It has now been over a month since the state closed its public comment period for the draft “model” policies, which would require schools to identify students based on their sex assigned at birth and prohibit discipline for deadnaming or misgendering a student even if they get their official school records changed.
“The model policies document has not been finalized. The department is still in the process of reviewing public comment,” VDOE communications director Charles Pyle told FFXnow.
The department received more than 71,000 comments on the policies — some supportive, some critical — while the forum was open from Sept. 26 to Oct. 26.
The policies could’ve taken effect as soon as the comment period ended, but the VDOE said last month that the implementation would be delayed by 30 days under a state code provision that requires a delay if a guidance document might contradict state law.
Opponents of the proposed policies have argued that they would violate the Virginia Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. A section on student participation in athletics also goes against the state law that directed VDOE to create the model policies, which explicitly excluded sports from consideration.
Though the additional 30-day deadline has now passed, Pyle says VDOE has no sense of when its public comments review might finish, citing the volume of comments. The department’s staff can make revisions to the draft guidelines, which must be approved by the state superintendent.
“We have more than 71,000 comments to sort through and the department is exploring options for completing the review,” Pyle said in a statement. “Even after the comments are reviewed, the department will take the time necessary to identify and make any edits identified and warranted by the review.”
The Fairfax County School Board has indicated it won’t adopt the model policies, which contradict its existing policies supporting LGBT students. The Board of Supervisors issued a formal statement opposing them, arguing that they would defy legal precedent and harm transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has championed the policies as “protecting parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions for their children,” will be in Fairfax County tomorrow to celebrate last week’s opening of the extended I-66 Express Lanes.
According to a media advisory, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay will also attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Fairfax Corner, but no policy discussions are expected between the Democratic chair and Republican governor.
“We are guessing the Governor is already well aware of Chairman McKay’s on-the-record staunch opposition to the proposed change in model policies and its impact on Fairfax County families,” McKay’s office said.
After the ribbon-cutting, Youngkin is scheduled to appear in Arlington for an unspecified economic development announcement.
The cold and rain didn’t dampen enthusiasm for the opening of Metro’s long-awaited, $3 billion Silver Line Phase II.
Yesterday marked the much-anticipated public opening of the 11.4-mile extension of the rail line from Reston into Loudoun County. Along with six new stations, this marks the first time that locals can take a train to Dulles International Airport.
Over multiple ribbon-cutting ceremonies throughout the chilly, wet November day, local officials touted the debut of the line as a “game-changer” and a “new era” for western Fairfax County and the D.C. region as a whole.
“It really is the establishment of a new identity for the Dulles corridor,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said at the new Reston Town Center station. “Now, what we’re going to see is the Dulles corridor tied together with transit in a way that was really never anticipated…We are in a new era.”
Riders, too, recognized what this could mean for the region and their daily travel.
“It’s going to change my life,” Raj Paradaar told FFXnow while riding the extension’s first passenger-filled train heading westbound. He lives in Ashburn and works near the Reston Town Center station, so he plans to ride the Metro most days.
Inside the Innovation Center station, commuters came and went, including a United Airlines flight attendant headed to work at Dulles. He lives in an apartment building across the street from the new station, along with a number of other flight attendants, FFXnow was told.
“That’s where we live,” the United Airlines flight attendant said pointing outside. “And that’s where we work…Honestly, taking a train is just much easier.”
Other riders said the extension won’t significantly affect their day-to-day habits, but they agreed it will make getting to the airport simpler.
Franconia resident Terry Rice, clutching luggage, happened to have a trip to Italy scheduled on the extension’s opening day. While planning, she realized that Dulles Airport was now only a train ride away.
“It may not change my life, but it’s going to make my life much easier,” Rice said.
Pulling into Reston Town Center station, the first stop on the new line. pic.twitter.com/83JP2LwMQh
— Matt Blitz (@WhyBlitz) November 15, 2022
During yesterday’s ceremonies, officials tried to make clear that the Silver Line extension’s impact is anticipated to go beyond simply being a link to the airport, reiterating a message that many have been saying for years.
“We have within our grasp…the ability to completely reinvent, reimagine [this corridor] as mixed-use development, as transit-oriented development, as environmentally friendly, as improving quality of life, as reducing carbon emissions, and as restoring choices for people who live in Northern Virginia,” said newly reelected Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) at a ceremony outside of the Innovation Center station. Read More
As the county officially approves paying an additional $40 million to finish the Silver Line Phase II, fare evasion continues to irk supervisors.
At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the county followed through on the transportation committee’s recommendation last month to pay an additional $40.25 million to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) for the completion of the Silver Line Phase II.
As noted at the Sept. transportation committee meeting, the board didn’t have much choice in the matter. In July, MWAA agreed to increase the budget for the extension by $250 million which will be largely shouldered by Dulles Toll Road users. Because the original project agreement calls for Fairfax County to pay about 16% of the overage, the county owed an additional $40.25 million.
Last month, Board Chair Jeff McKay expressed his frustration about paying even more money for the much-delayed project but noted that it was a “requirement” and the county didn’t have the flexibility to not pay it “without significant negative consequences.”
At yesterday’s meeting, though, McKay struck a slightly different tone by focusing on the Silver Line Phase II’s potential to be a “game-changer” for the region.
“We can’t understate the importance of this project to the long-term success of Fairfax County,” McKay said. “It’s a major milestone.”
There remains no set date for when the line will be ready for riders, though Metro confirmed to FFXnow yesterday that it’s on track to open by Thanksgiving with the go-ahead to add more trains.
The supervisors also took a few moments at this week’s meeting to discuss Metro’s plans to stop fare evasion. Earlier this month, Metro announced it was ramping up enforcement and will be testing new station fare gates that are more difficult to jump over.
Metro estimates that fare evasion has cost the agency about $40 million this year, or nearly a quarter of its budget gap.
Several supervisors noted that they were pleased there was finally movement on better enforcement of fare evasion. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said there are certainly “equity issues” when it comes to enforcement, but “it has to be a level playing field.”
However, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust called fare evasion the “least of [Metro’s] challenges” in terms of securing long-term funding for a system that could be facing a $500 million funding gap next year.
“They need a plan that goes way beyond [dealing] with fare evasion,” said Foust.