Alexandria, VA

Alexandria Police Officer Jonathan Griffin has been charged with assault and battery for an unjustified use of force against a handcuffed resident in January, according to the city.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said that 32-year-old, who was dismissed from the department after the incident, was charged with one count of assault and battery. The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor and the maximum penalty is a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

The incident occurred on January 27, and Griffin arrested the victim for a health evaluation, according to a city release. Griffin joined the department in 2012 and was assigned to the Community Oriented Policing Unit.

“While escorting the individual in handcuffs, Officer Griffin used force to take the individual to the ground. The individual sustained multiple injuries on the front of his body as a result of the action,” the city said. “A subsequent investigation found that no force was necessary or justified.”

Griffin was placed on administrative leave on June 3 and was notified on June 26 that he was going to be fired and his case had been sent to Porter’s office, according to the city. His termination is expected to be finalized this month. Additionally, three supervisors who “failed to investigate the use of force promptly enough have also been disciplined,” the city noted.

Griffin was booked at the Alexandria Jail and was released pending his arraignment at the Alexandria Courthouse on August 4.

This is no surprise to us that these occurrences are happening in our city. We continue to demand to Alexandria City…

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Photo via Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

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Fewer arrests, calls for service and inmates in the Alexandria Jail are just a few of the changes the city is contending with as it tries to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Alexandria Police have seen a 42% reduction in calls for service and a 91% decrease in traffic stops since the Governor announced his stay at home order on March 30.

“Due to the inherent risk factor of COVID-19 exposure when you are near others, officers should only be making an arrest when it is necessary for public safety or when mandated by state or federal law,” police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “Officers should also practice limiting their exposure to others by conducting only those traffic stops at this time that seem necessary for public safety.”

There has been decrease in calls for service involving assaults, noise complaints and mental health cases, Ballantine said, and an increase in trespassing and domestic violence calls for service.

“In order to limit unnecessary exposure of officers and the public to COVID-19, the Department has modified its response to certain lower priority calls for service,” Ballantine said. “This direction, which provides a procedure for ensuring appropriate response to calls for service, shall remain in place until rescinded by the chief of police.”

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter is continuing more than 1,000 cases for 30 to 60 days until the crisis abates.

“We have worked very diligently with people across the aisle with the sheriff’s office and with the courts to really try to look at each individual case and err wherever we could on the side of release and trying to get that jail population down so that we’re not putting people in jail or jail employees or sheriff’s employees or anybody at risk,” Porter said.

The Alexandria Jail’s local inmate population is down 44%. The Sheriff limited visitation to inmates from the outside world, except in cases of emergency, to keep out the coronavirus outbreak outside of the jail.

“We’re usually running above capacity which is 338 in our jail. And now we are significantly below capacity,” Lt. Sean Casey of the Sheriff’s Office told ALXnow. “Inside the jail environment, a disease, especially as contagious as COVID-19, could spread quickly, and in such a confined space it could affect a lot of people, so our judicial partners are making an effort to try to keep our facility as safe as possible and we’re working with them when we can.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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As Alexandria grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office is figuring out how to keep running the city’s Treatment Court.

The Treatment Court is an alternative to jail for individuals with substance abuse issues, and most participants have been to jail multiple times. There are currently eight participants in the court, which launched in August and usually meets every Thursday in the Alexandria Courthouse. But the building at 520 King Street is largely shut down now due to COVID-19.

“The program was just running fantastically until this hiccup,” Assistant Commonwealth Attorney David Lord, the Treatment Court coordinator, told ALXnow. “Ultimately we don’t know what it will mean for our participants, but we’ve provided the structure that if they are motivated will get them through it. They are all individually very motivated in their recovery.”

At the courthouse, all jury trials have stopped, multitudes of cases have been continued between 30 and 60 days, and the clerk’s office is doing business by appointment only.

“My understanding is that the number of people allowed in the courtroom is significantly reduced,” Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said. “Inside courtrooms, provisions are being made to keep appropriate social distances. Hearings are going to be as brief as possible.”

Porter added, “The courts have significantly reduced active cases. They basically have continued multitudes of cases 30 to 60 days. There’s definitely going to be some type of layering of cases that is caused by this situation, but it’s an unprecedented crisis, and there’s no other way around it.”

Treatment Court participants, who have agreed to an increased level of supervision by a probation officer and weekly court appearances, are now being visited by police making home visits — from a distance. The five-phase program also requires group and individual therapy sessions and frequent drug testing, all of which is not possible at this time.

“Our focus has been what do we need to put in place to make sure our participants’ recovery doesn’t fall apart,” Lord said. “Participants are meeting with therapist remotely, through an app, to receive individualized therapy and substance abuse counseling twice a week… Even though many participants are not economically well off, everybody has a smartphone.”

The participants are also being provided with information on online therapy groups since all in-person Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have been canceled.

“There’s a huge problem when you have someone in recovery when accountability and structure are not in place,” Lord said. “We don’t want them to have to start at square one after everything they’ve accomplished. That would be devastating to their lives.”

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The Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney believes that the Virginia General Assembly will pass measures to decriminalize marijuana this session, but that doesn’t mean he will stop prosecuting simple possession charges.

In fact, while Bryan Porter introduced a diversion program in the summer that would allow people to be treated more leniently, that’s not stopping him from prosecuting such cases.

“In other words, the diversion program is my response to the community’s desire to have simple marijuana possession treated more leniently,” Porter told ALXnow. “I support marijuana decriminalization and I suspect that it will pass in some form during this Assembly.”

It seems like a natural conclusion — that the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Alexandria will follow the letter of the law — but that’s not the case in Arlington and Fairfax County. Steve Descano, the newly elected Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, as well as Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa ­Dehghani-Tafti, have stated that they will not prosecute simple marijuana possession charges. Both have moved to dismiss simple possession cases since taking office at the beginning of the month.

Porter said that his diversion program allows people charged with marijuana possession to avoid conviction, fines, and court costs and allows them to have the charge expunged.

“The program is prospective, meaning that someone charged today (or tomorrow) would have the opportunity to have their charge dismissed and expunged,” Porter said. “Furthermore, citizens will be allowed into the diversion program even if they have previously had a charge diverted. My diversion program has been looked to as a model by other prosecutors around the state.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin’s (D-30th) bill to decriminalize marijuana, which is working its way through the state Senate, proposes a maximum $50 civil fine for a simple possession charge. Virginia State Police reported that there were 29,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2018, accounting for 59 percent of total drug arrests.

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Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney is headed to Port City tonight to talk about the hunt for Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance.

The author talk focuses on Bryan Porter’s book The Parable of the Knocker, the behind-the-scenes story released earlier this year about the investigation, prosecution and trial of Severance. He was ultimately convicted of the murders of Nancy Dunning in 2003, Ronald Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014.

For years, the mystery of Dunning’s murder threw a shadow over the community, and Porter’s book looks at the work investigators did to connect the 2003 killing to the two in 2013 and 2014.

According to the event description, Porter will also discuss insight into the psychological profile of the serial killer that Porter describes in the book as emerging out of Severance’s journals.

In those journals, Severance expressed anger over a child custody dispute and directed that anger towards local government. All of the victims were, in some form, connected to local government, but Porter said in the book it’s more likely that they were picked for living in an affluent neighborhood rather than individually targeted.

The book talk is scheduled to be held at Port City Brewing Company at 3950 Wheeler Avenue from 6-8:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). The event is free and those who register and attend will receive a free pint, according to the event description.

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