FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A former police officer charged with murder for shooting and killing a man during a domestic disturbance call collapsed Wednesday in a northern Virginia courtroom after being denied bail in his initial court appearance.
Adam Torres, 32, of Culpeper, fainted toward the end of a 20-minute hearing as lawyers discussed a possible December trial date. After standing for several minutes, Torres collapsed, hitting a chair before landing flat on his back. One bailiff cleared the courtroom and another checked Torres’ vital signs as Torres lay on the floor with eyes closed.
The sheriff’s office declined to comment on Torres’ condition, but there was no obvious sign of serious injury or health problems. A sheriff’s deputy was overheard telling Torres’ mother that he was alert several minutes after he fainted, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said he believed Torres was taken to the hospital as a precaution.
Torres killed John Geer, 46, of Springfield, in August 2013 after a report of a domestic dispute. Witnesses, including other officers, said Geer was unarmed and had his hands up when he was shot. Torres told investigators he thought Geer might have a weapon hidden in his waist, and that he was concerned Geer might reach for a gun that he had previously set down at his feet.
The two-year delay between the shooting and Monday’s indictment led to allegations that Fairfax County was stonewalling the investigation. Morrogh said the county’s own lawyers withheld from him internal police documents he needed to conduct his investigation until a federal court and an inquiry from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, prodded the county to relent.
At Wednesday’s hearing, defense lawyer John Carroll urged the judge to authorize Torres’ release on $25,000 bail. He said Torres has lived in northern Virginia since he was a child and is not a flight risk.
He also questioned the strength of the government’s case. He pointed out that Geer refused to come out of his home, prompting a 40-minute standoff. Geer had guns in the home, and while Geer had set down one weapon at his feet, Torres has said he could not see that weapon.
“He said he had a gun and was willing to use it,” Carroll said. At some point in the standoff, Carroll said, Geer lowered his hands, prompting Torres to fire a single shot.
“Mr. Geer made a movement Mr. Torres believed was reaching toward the gun,” Carroll said. Torres “believed he was in danger, and that others were in danger.”
Morrogh, though, said other officers at the scene maintain that Geer kept his hands up during the encounter, and at most lowered his hands from above his head to level with his ears.
“He shot a man with his hands up, and I think that makes him dangerous,” Morrogh said.
He also said Torres “appeared to be in a deteriorating mental state” in the days and weeks before the shooting. Morrogh said he was occasionally sent home from work, and was consumed by thoughts that his wife had been cheating on him.
Judge Stephen Shannon ordered Torres held pending trial. Shannon explained to Torres, dressed in a green jail jumpsuit, that Virginia law presumes bail will be denied on murder charges. Torres nodded silently. A few minutes later, he collapsed.
Torres’ prosecution marks the first time that a Fairfax County police officer has faced criminal charges for an on-duty shooting.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Morrogh acknowledged that it can be difficult to prosecute police officers, but said the circumstances require it.
“I’ve prosecuted judges. I’ve prosecuted lawyers. It’s rare to see a case like this. There’s no joy in it, but I’ve got to do my job,” he said.
Police said Torres, who had been an officer since 2006, was fired on July 31.
Police have said Geer was white, and so is Torres. Race hasn’t been raised as a factor in the shooting.
In April, the county agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the family for nearly $3 million, the largest settlement in Virginia history in connection with a police shooting.
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