- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Security gates at the Sully District Police Station in Chantilly, where an 18-year-old gunman killed two officers last week, needed repairs on more than 12 separate occasions since 2004, Fairfax County officials said yesterday.

“At any facility that’s publicly owned, things are used a lot, and obviously they’re maintained, but things break,” said Merni Fitzgerald, a county spokeswoman. “For a gate that constantly all day opens up, there’s a lot of wear and tear.”

Officials with the Fairfax police union told The Washington Times Wednesday that the rear gate at the Sully station was broken and wide open on May 8, allowing Michael Kennedy access to the parking lot, where he ambushed and fatally shot Detective Vicky O. Armel and Master Police Officer Michael E. Garbarino.

Miss Fitzgerald said the rear gate was only manually operational on the day of the shooting. She said that to her knowledge, the last time the rear gate was repaired was March 22, when the gate was stuck halfway open and the county contracted with the Woodbridge, Va.-based Door Systems Inc. for repairs.

“Some work was done in response” to that problem, Miss Fitzgerald said.

Union officials told The Times that the gate had not been repaired for three months despite several requests by the station to county officials. The gate was replaced May 12, four days after the fatal attack on the officers.

The Sully station, which opened in 2003, is equipped with two security gates. One gate is beside the station and provides entry to the back lot, while the other serves as an exit onto Stonecroft Boulevard.

The old rear gate was a barrier made up of individually spaced metal bars and stood about 7 to 8 feet high, said Officer Marshall E. Thielen, president of the Fairfax Coalition of Police, Local 5000. It was replaced with a similar gate.

Responsibility for gate maintenance falls to the county, which often contracts with private vendors for facility repairs. Miss Fitzgerald said previous problems with the Sully gates, according to work orders and invoices, included reports that one was stuck halfway open and one was off its track and would not shut.

Officer Thielen said that gates at the Reston and Mason police stations also were broken on the day of the shooting and that such mechanical failures are a common problem at county police stations.

“That’s normal for the other police stations,” he said. The gates “are used 24 hours a day so they get a lot of use. In the past, there was no maintenance schedule on them. That is now occurring, allegedly.”

Officer Thielen said the union is considering legal action.

Kennedy was carrying an AK-47-style assault weapon, high-powered rifle and five handguns when he ambushed the officers, which prompted the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to ask Congress to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

However, Officer Thielen said that he has spoken to the families of the fallen officers and that they do not support such a ban.

“It’s not about a gun or a type of gun,” he said. “They still feel it’s not the assault-rifle issue that is the cause.”

Police said the funeral for Officer Garbarino will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va. Interment will be at the Fairfax Memorial Park. Police said the service will be open to family, friends and public-safety personnel.

They said the procession from the church to the memorial park will drive by the Sully station, and they encouraged members of the community who want to show support to line the route.

Meanwhile, the police department is looking after the families of the fallen officers.

Mary Ann Jennings, a county police spokeswoman, said the presence of officers in the Centreville neighborhood where the Garbarino family lives is a safety precaution.

“Quite frankly, we’re still a little concerned about security,” she said.

Police also have not spoken with Kennedy’s parents, Brian and Margaret Kennedy, who have been in seclusion since the shooting.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said last week that the parents have an “absolute, unqualified constitutional right not to talk to police.”

While unusual, the situation is not unprecedented.

The parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did not speak to authorities immediately after the April 20, 1999, shooting rampage at Columbine High School. Harris, 18, and Klebold, 17, killed 12 students and a teacher and injured more than 20 others before taking their own lives.

The Klebolds hired an attorney and did not meet with investigators until 10 days after the shooting. The Harrises, who hired a lawyer and initially demanded immunity from prosecution in exchange for speaking with investigators, eventually dropped that demand but were not interviewed by authorities until six months later.

In another case, the parents of James Sheets spoke to police after the 14-year-old boy fatally shot his middle school principal April 24, 2003, in a crowded school cafeteria in Red Lion, Pa. Sheets used a second handgun to kill himself.

Police said Sheets took three loaded handguns to school in his book bag. They determined that Sheets used a key to take the guns from his stepfather’s gun safe. The parents were not charged in the case.

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