After more than two months, the investigation into the death of Jeffrey Ponce Aguilar, who was struck and killed by Fairfax County Police Officer Gregory Joseph Salino on April 2, has officially been closed. In a move surprising no one, no charges are being pursued. Salino has been restored to the official duties county taxpayers shell out $55,417 for him to do.
Was this a valid decision? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Law enforcement in general and the Fairfax County Police Department (and elected officials in the county) specifically have betrayed the public too many times for blind faith in the integrity of their internal investigations into their own actions.
There is dash cam footage of the incident, but it has not yet been provided to the public. FCPD’s announcement states:
“Colonel Roessler has directed staff from the Internal Affairs Bureau to meet with the family of the deceased, along with their legal counsel and provide them with an opportunity to view the in-car video of the crash prior to releasing the video to the community at a later date that has not yet been determined.”
Obviously, sensitivity should be shown to the family by allowing them the chance to see the video privately, rather than seeing it for the first time on the news. However, the statement gives the impression other factors are being considered here. FCPD leadership could easily have provided an adequate timeframe for the family to meet with them for this viewing while also setting a firm release date to the public. Or will this require another public shaming from a reporter at a community meeting, as it did for the release of the David Masters’ video?
The timing appears odd for several items in FCPD’s handling of this investigation:
- Their 6/14 release states that the medical examiner’s autopsy report was not submitted to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh until June 13. When was this report completed? If it took two months to complete the report, an explanation needs to be provided to the public. If it was completed within a normal timeframe, was it not provided to the county prosecutor’s office for more than two months? Did Senator Chuck Grassley need to send another letter to FCPD to get them to release the report? Lastly, why is FCPD the gatekeeper for reports from the Medical Examiner’s Office to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office? The two offices should have direct communication with each other.
- The announcement that the Commonwealth’s Attorney was declining to pursue charges was posted at nearly 9PM on a Friday night. Too late for the evening news, too late for most people to even notice. Based on FCPD’s 6/14 and 6/17 news releases, Morrogh took less than one week to review the report and investigation materials and reach a decision. Perhaps that was because it was obvious no charges were warranted. Or it could be that the outcome had already been determined at the outset. Either way, when did Morrogh officially reach this decision? It seems unlikely he was working on the case until late in the evening on Friday, so why was the announcement held until then, and how long was it held for? And why hasn’t the report been released to the public?
The much-celebrated, but hardly-implemented ad hoc commission recommendations (p13) state:
The Commonwealth’s Attorney should be requested to issue timely and comprehensive public reports in any case involving Death or Serious Injury when no criminal charges are filed. The reports should describe the investigation conducted by the FCPD, any additional investigation or consultation undertaken by the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and the basis for the conclusions reached by the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Once again the public is left to wait and watch to see if county officials are still just blowing hot air when it comes to transparency. So far they get an ‘A’ for releasing the officer’s name, and two ‘F’s for not releasing the video or the report of the investigation. Final Grade: D