Karen Keys-Gamarra’s Statement on
Fairfax County Grand Jury Action in Timothy Johnson Case
Attorney Keys-Gamarra Questions the Fairness of Current
Virginia Grand Jury Procedures, Will Champion Legislative Reform
Fairfax County, HD-7. This week, our community was shocked to learn that a Fairfax County Grand Jury did not indict the Fairfax County Police Officer who shot and killed Mr. Timothy Johnson, an unarmed man accused of stealing a pair of sunglasses. Within days of the shooting, Police Chief Kevin Davis fired the officer, stating that the officer’s actions violated the Use of Excessive Force and other policies.
The shooting video and the Police Chief’s public statements were clear. The ongoing problem of police using excessive force against residents who are overwhelmingly people of color, persons with mental health conditions, or persons of differing abilities has been documented. This case raises significant concerns about a legal system that touts “Justice for All” in theory but, for many, delivers a “Justice for Some” outcome.
The grand jury procedures raise concerns about fundamental fairness for victims of excessive force by law enforcement. Delivering justice for Mr. Johnson was hindered by a Virginia law that does not allow the grand jury to hear from the commonwealth attorney or an independent presenter of facts in police-involved shootings. Instead, like in other cases before a grand jury, law enforcement presents evidence against the accused.
In Mr. Johnson’s case, the fired officer’s two police department co-workers were the key law enforcement witnesses. Not having an independent party without a conflict of interest in the grand jury room disregards the compelling state and public interest in procedural safeguards. The lack of such procedures often leaves a community frustrated and concerned about fundamental issues of fairness, transparency, and accountability.
For this reason, if elected as the HD-7 Delegate, I will patron a bill in the General Assembly to require the appointment of a Special Prosecutor or equivalent independent presenter and the impanelment of a Special Grand Jury to investigate cases involving the killing of unarmed persons by law enforcement officers or prison guards. If this law had been in place, Fairfax County would have had a Special Grand Jury whose sole purpose would have been to review the evidence presented by a Special Prosecutor and not by the Fairfax County police against a fellow officer. The evidence presented would have to be released to the public 90 days after the Special Grand Jury’s decision if they decline to indict. Such procedural changes would improve public confidence in the justice system.
As an At Large School Board Member in Fairfax County and a practicing attorney, I have worked tirelessly to ensure that our system addresses the disparities in discipline and criminal justice enforcement in our schools. I have championed safety in our public schools and for some of our most vulnerable residents. No parent should be forced to bury their child without an explanation of the circumstances and assurance that redress is available in a court of law when appropriate.
We owe the residents of HD- 7, Fairfax County, and the Commonwealth of Virginia commonsense solutions to pressing and, at times, controversial issues. My work, experience, and lived values have focused on fundamental issues of fairness and finding solutions to tough problems. As your Delegate, I will urge the General Assembly to reform our criminal justice system.
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