Hillwood Avenue Standoff Ends

June 25, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

June 26, 2012

11:32 pm:  The City has released the following account of the situation that developed yesterday on Hillwood Avenue.

The Falls Church City Police Department received a call for a domestic disturbance in the 600 block of Hillwood shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday, June 25.

City police responded to the scene and were met by a distraught male subject with a handgun.  There were also reports that the subject had poured gasoline on himself and throughout the house.  Two family members were in the house at the time but were swiftly extracted from the property by Falls Church Police.  The subject subsequently barricaded himself in the house.

Falls Church Police activated the Falls Church Emergency Services Unit (ESU) and requested mutual aid from Fairfax County Police Department and the City of Falls Church Sheriff’s Office.  The incident escalated as the subject became more agitated.  Additional mutual aid units were called throughout the 28 hour standoff including the City of Alexandria Police Department, Arlington County Police Department, Arlington and Fairfax Fire and EMS, regional SWAT teams, and the continued efforts of Fairfax County Police.

Just before 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 26, the subject gave the Falls Church Police an opportunity for non-lethal use of force.  The subject subsequently surrendered to authorities and was immediately treated and transported to Fairfax Hospital.  Felony charges are pending and the investigation continues.

The Falls Church Police and the City thank the community for patience and support in a successful outcome of this event.

•    Residents of Hillwood Ave. may return to their homes.
•    Eastbound Hillwood Ave. will be open by the morning rush hour. The westbound lane will remain closed as the investigation continues.
•    Washington Gas is on the scene and is in the process of restoring gas utilities to all homes that experienced disrupted service.
•    Residents of the Hillwood neighborhood will have regularly scheduled trash and recycling collection on Wednesday, June 27.

10:33 pm:  The City has announced that the  stand-off on Hillwood Avenue has ended with the surrender of the individual involved.  Roads remain closed due to ongoing police investigations, however residents in the affected area are allowed back to their homes.  The eastbound lanes of Hillwood Avenue will be open by Wednesday morning’s rush hour.  Any utilities that were impacted are also anticipated to be restored by tomorrow morning.

5:30 pm:  During the 4 pm hour police officers temporarily lost contact with the man barricaded in a house in the 600 block of Hillwood Avenue.  After tear gas cannisters were fired into the house the man again picked up the telephone.   City spokesperson Susan Finarelli stated that officials continue to work for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, now over 24 hours old.

3:30 pm: Hillwood Avenue remains closed between Roosevelt and Cherry Streets and negotiations between police and an armed man that began at 1 am continue. Officials report no progress, and traffic is heavy on alternate routes of East Broad Street and Annandale Road. Arlington County officials also are on the scene, as are multiple television stations.

The City of Falls Church Communications Office issued this statement:

“Hillwood Ave remains closed from S. Roosevelt St through Cherry St. Residents within the barricaded area should continue to use caution. If those residents need to leave their homes, they should call police dispatch at 703-241-5053. If residents need to enter their homes, they need to speak with officers stationed on Hillwood Ave at Flagmaker Dr. Not all requests can be accommodated. Ideally, residents should stay in their homes or stay out of the neighborhood.

The City of Falls Church Police Department thanks its jurisdictional partners for assistance during this event. City of Alexandria police are currently on-scene; Fairfax SWAT and Arlington County police also assisted through the night and remain on call for further help.

The City also thanks its residents and business owners affected by the street closures. The City and everyone involved hope this concludes in a peaceful way.”

June 25, 11 pm: For nearly seven hours local police have attempted to resolve a barricade situation in the 600 block of Hillwood Avenue.  Shots reportedly were fired inside a house around 4:30 this afternoon, prompting an immediate response by City of Falls Church Police and Sheriff and Fairfax County Police.  The entire block has been cordoned off and some nearby houses evacuated.  Within the last hour police have inserted non-toxic gas into the residence but the gunman has not emerged.

Gardner Trial Starts Today

April 24, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

By Falls Church Times Staff
April 24, 2012

Arlington County Circuit Judge Benjamin Kendrick and a jury of nine women and five men heard opening arguments today in the sexual battery case against Michael A. Gardner.

The judge and attorneys for the prosecution and defense spent the day Monday whittling the jury pool down and finished the job Tuesday. The trial began immediately thereafter and is expected to run through Friday and possibly Monday.

The judge rejected a motion by Gardner’s attorneys to hold two separate trials in the case, one each for allegations from June 16 and 18. The judge also said he would consider a defense motion to transport the jury to Gardner’s home to view the basement in which the alleged attacks took place. Defense attorneys argued that the basement was so dark that any attacker would have been difficult, if not impossible, to identify.

Five women among the prospective jurors were dismissed after indicating that they found the charges disturbing.

Family members of the alleged victims as well as friends of the defendant were in attendance at the proceedings.

Mr. Gardner, husband of Falls Church City Councilor Robin Gardner and a former head of the local Falls Church City Democratic Committee, was arrested June 22 after three girls accused him of touching them in a sexual manner during visits to the Gardner home the previous week.

The trial originally was scheduled for January, but was delayed after the defense asked to see records pertaining to therapy received by two of the girls. According to documents filed in Arlington, parents of the girls refused to give the prosecution the records, but were required to do so by the court, which also required them to be shared with the defense.

Washington’s NBC affiliate and other local news sources are actively covering the case.

 

Additional Charge Filed in Gardner Case

October 20, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

October 20, 2011

The Arlington Grand Jury has indicted Michael Gardner on a third count of aggravated sexual battery.  The indictment was filed Monday and was the subject of a hearing today in Circuit Court.

Gardner was indicted in July on one count of object penetration and two counts of aggravated sexual battery involving three girls in two separate incidents at his home in June.  The latest charge does not involve a fourth girl.

Trial on all counts is scheduled to begin on January 23, 2012 and is expected to last four days.

The trial originally had been scheduled to begin October 3 but was delayed to allow for the completion of DNA testing.  Gardner’s attorney has disputed a recent WUSA-TV report on the test results.

Attorney for Michael Gardner Denies WUSA-TV Report

October 12, 2011 by · 6 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
October 12, 2011

Peter Greenspun, attorney for Michael Gardner, issued a statement today denying WUSA-TV’s October 11 story, which was reported late yesterday in the Falls Church Times.  The text of the press release is printed here in full:

Re: Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Michael Gardner

Due to false press reports, it is necessary to clarify information regarding a DNA lab report filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington County.  Under Virginia law, there is a requirement that certain lab reports be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court before trial, including DNA findings.  In Mr. Gardner’s case, the press has obtained information from a DNA report, and has inaccurately reported that Mr. Gardner was the source of sperm found in the crouch area and pant leg of the pajama pants of one of the children involved in this case.  In fact, the DNA report says no such thing, and actually states the opposite, that Mr. Gardner is eliminated as a contributor of the sperm.

Therefore, false press reports have led to the conclusion that there is overwhelming evidence that Mr. Gardner is guilty.  The only fact found by the DNA report is that there was an unknown contributor of sperm to the pajama pants of a child who is a complainant in this case.  We do not know who that sperm is identified with, except that it is not identified with Mr. Gardner.

Beyond that, the DNA report filed with the Clerk indicates what we only already knew:  that Mr. Gardner’s DNA was throughout his house, allowing routine cell transfers to occur.  The far more important finding is of DNA and sperm not belonging to Mr. Gardner on the pajama pants of a child, raising significant questions about the rush to judge and charge Mr. Gardner before the investigation was complete.

New Development in Michael Gardner Case

October 11, 2011 by · 15 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

October 11, 2011

WUSA-TV reported this evening that Arlington Circuit Court officials have revealed that semen was found on the pajama bottoms of two of the alleged victims in the child molestation case involving Michael Gardner.

According to the report, lab tests found a DNA profile foreign to the girl.  The lab determined that Michael Gardner cannot be eliminated as the person who left that DNA and that the odds of it being another Caucasian male are one in 20.7 quadrillion.

Sperm also was found on the pajama bottoms of a second girl.  DNA results do not eliminate the accused for a match in this case.  The lab determined that the odds of it being another Caucasian male are one in 3,860.

The events at issue, involving two girls age 10 and one age 9, allegedly occured at the Gardner home on two different dates in June.

The accused was arrested on June 22 and was indicted by the Arlington Grand Jury on July 18 on two counts of aggravated sexual battery and one count of object penetration.  Trial was scheduled to begin on October 3, but the prosecution requested a continuance until January to allow for completion of DNA tests.

Michael Gardner Trial Delayed Until January 2012

September 19, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

By FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF

September 19, 2011

The trial of Michael Gardner has been delayed until January 23, 2012, according to a report by Channel 7 News.   The continuance was granted this morning in Arlington Circuit Court.

Gardner was scheduled to face a jury trial beginning on October 3 for felony sexual abuse charges involving three young girls.  Last month the Court granted a prosecution motion to try the charges together, rather than separately.

Gardner is accused of aggravated sexual battery and object sexual penetration.  The events allegedly occured on the night of June 18, when two of the girls attended a slumber party at the Gardner family home, and on the night of June 16, when the third girl slept over at the house.

Gardner was arrested by Falls Church City police on June 22 and released the following day on $50,000 bond.  He was indicted by the Grand Jury on July 18.

Eden Center Raid Controversy Continues;
Charges Against Four Suspects Dismissed, One Acquitted

September 15, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

September 15, 2011

The controversy over last month’s raid at the Eden Center continued yesterday as a group of protesters congregated outside Falls Church City Hall.  Inside, misdemeanor gambling charges against four defendants were dismissed by the prosecutor in General District Court after a fifth defendant was acquitted.

The protesters stood between American and South Vietnamese flags and behind a banner proclaiming “We Demand Equal Rights in Falls Church.”  Yesterday’s demonstration followed Monday evening’s City Council session during which Vietnamese-American business leaders and Eden Center patrons voiced their concerns over the conduct of Falls Church police during the August 11 raid and on other recent occasions.

The raid, organized and executed by the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, of which FCPD is a member, confiscated over $1 million in cash and 70 gambling devices valued at $200,000.  Police served felony search warrants at thirteen Eden Center restaurants and arrested nineteen people for various misdemeanor offenses, including gambling, fireworks, and ABC violations.

One suspect has since pleaded guilty to illegal gambling.  The remaining defendants have court dates either in October or November.

No felony arrests were made, but Task Force officials stated that several were pending.  The Task Force commander, Lt. Dan Hess of  Prince William County, said that the activity was controlled by a primarily Vietnamese-American gang known as the Dragon family, whose activities had “paralyzed the Eden Center community.”

Speakers at Monday’s meeting saw the action in a different light.  Several insisted that they had never heard of the Dragon gang and charged that subsequent media accounts of the raid had created a false and negative image of the Eden Center, resulting in a decline in business.

Attorney Due H. Tran called for increasing the dialogue between the Council and Center businesses and recommended community policing.  Other speakers cited incidents unrelated to the raid as examples of “over-policing” and alleged that the police did not have a good working relationship with the business owners and the Vietnamese community even before the raid.

During the meeting Mayor Nader Baroukh and other Council members declined comment on the raid and the ongoing investigation.  He said that the City was ready to meet with Eden Center officials to discuss matters such as tensions with the police.

The mayor said later that the Council and the City look forward to continuing their good relationship with Eden Center businesses. “The Center is an important part of the Falls Church community and we welcome the opportunity for more dialogue and cooperation,” said Mr. Baroukh.  “In addition, public safety for residents and visitors will continue to be a high priority at the Eden Center and throughout Falls Church.”

In a statement released yesterday evening, Falls Church City Chief of Police Harry Reitze said that his department is committed to providing a safe environment for all who live, work or visit.

“FCPD has practiced Community Policing at the Eden Center since its founding, with placement of an on-site field office and foot patrols which strengthens information sharing,” he said.  “FCPD has a long-standing, sound relationship with the Eden Center, and has been asked on occasion to increase it patrols and to enforce violations of smoking, gambling and other activities.”

The chief added that FCPD has been asked many times by businesses and Eden Center management to ban people from the Center who may violate the law.  “FCPD will continue to work with the Eden Center management and business owners to maintain a safe and welcoming environment,” he concluded.

A tape of Monday’s Council session is available here. The speakers’ comments concerning the Eden Center begin at 00.23.20.

Eden Center Reps Call for Better Policing,
Council Approves 8% Water Rate Increase

September 12, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

September 12, 2011

Leaders of the Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce and several Eden Center patrons this evening criticized recent actions of the Falls Church police and called on the City Council to improve the relationship between the Center and the FCPD.  The comments came in the wake of last month’s raid on the Center, which allegedly uncovered gambling operations at numerous establishments.

The speakers charged that the raid has given people a false image of the Eden Center, which in turn has hurt business.  They criticized police procedures and conduct, before, during, and after the raid.  Several said they had never heard of the Dragon family, which police alleged ran the gambling racket.  Some maintained that suspects were not read their rights or were banned from the Center without due process.

Spokesman Ty Nguyen offered the Council a list of suggestions for better policing.  He recommended establishing a drug free zone; creating an Eden Center community watch; designating an FCPD liaison, which he termed a full time bridge to Vietnamese community; appointing a City Council liaison, who would sit in at Council meetings; permitting “walk along volunteers” to assist the police; and having Miranda rights texts available in English and Vietnamese, while providing translators to read suspects their rights whenever a warrant is being served.

Vice Mayor Dave Snyder stated that he had never heard of the issues presented tonight, but called the speakers’ comments constructive.  “We cherish and highly value our relationship with the Eden Center and will work to assure a safe and prosperous environment for all concerned,” he said, to considerable applause.

Mayor Nader Baroukh added that he felt the vice mayor’s comments summed up the feelings of the entire Council and pledged to continue the dialogue and outreach to the Eden Center community.

Councilwoman Robin Gardner pointed out that at one time the police had maintained a sub-station at the Center.   “I’m glad we’re taking this as seriously as we are,” she said.  “Some of the stories are extremely disturbing.”

City Manager Wyatt Shields said that Falls Church is committed to community policing.  “The police are there to protect and to serve and I have no doubt about that,” he said.

Water Rates Rising

The Council approved an ordinance authorizing an 8% water rate increase, effective October 1.  The measure was adopted, 6-0, with Councilman Lawrence Webb absent.  According to Mr. Shields, the impact to the average customer would vary from $2.00 to $7.00 per quarter, based on usage.

The monies received through the increase will remain in the City’s water fund in accordance with a 2010 order of the Fairfax Circuit Court.   That order did not enjoin the City from setting its rates, only from transferring water system profits to its general fund.

Prior to the vote, Councilman Ira Kaylin noted that Fairfax Water had advised Falls Church in writing that it would not challenge the rate increase.  Many Fairfax County residents have protested the measure, which they regarded as unfair.  Over 90% of the water system’s customers reside in the county.

City “Bailing Out” on the Voting Rights Act

At the request of the Electoral Board and the General Registrar, the Council approved, 5-1, a resolution to begin the process of “bailing out” from the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Ms. Gardner cast the only negative vote.

The Act requires certain jurisdictions, including the City of Falls Church, to notify the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes in their local voting procedures, such as changing a precinct/ward location, adding an absentee voting location, or conducting registration drives.  Exemption from the requirement will provide overall financial and personnel efficiencies, while continuing to abide by the letter and spirit of the Act.

Congress amended the Act in 1982 to establish a process for local governments to be exempted or “bailed out” from the pre-clearance requirements if they have demonstrated a positive record of protecting voter rights in their jurisdiction for a period of at least ten years.  Since 1982 over 18 counties or cities in the Commonwealth have successfully gone through the process.

City Manager’s Report

Mr. Shields stated that the City received over 8 inches of rain during last week’s storm, something that could be expected only once every 85 years.  He said that the storm management system was well maintained but that it had been overwhelmed by an event it was not designed to handle.  Many homeowners have reported flooded basements, especially along Sherrow Avenue, Timber Lane, W. Columbia St., and lower portions of Broadmont.

The City is waiving the excess trash fees for the next two pickups but is not waiving the bulk pickup fee.  Mr. Shields cautioned that appliances under water should be replaced rather than repaired.   Only qualified contractors should be hired to deal with sewer backflows.  A list is available on the City’s website.

Mayor Baroukh suggested that the City hold a town hall meeting to address the flooding problems and other emergency management issues.

Cox Cable soon will be shifting FCC-TV from Channel 12 to Channel 11.  The new channel will be available throughout the City and Fairfax County.  Channel 12 is only available in eastern portions of the county.

Mr. Shields cited Gary La Porta for his recent work in conjunction with the City’s planning efforts.

Vision Statement and Work Plan

The Council passed resolutions, 6-0, approving its vision statement and the work plan for the current term.  The Council amended the work plan prior to the vote to include references to the Eden Center.

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