Police, prosecutor trade accusations after suspect in botched case is accused of murder

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti at Arlington Democrats election watch party in November 2019, when she was elected to office (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) The Arlington police union is pushing back on accusations that officers mishandled the search of a suspect who is now linked to a double murder.

In a rare public rebuke of Arlington’s top prosecutor, the Arlington Coalition of Police this afternoon sent out a press release accusing Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti of “ineptitude” and “deflection of blame.”

The barbs stem from a 2020 case against Francis Rose, who is currently in jail in Alexandria after a series of break-ins at an apartment complex there reportedly led to two construction workers, a stepfather and stepson described as “innocent bystanders,” each being fatally shot in the head.

As ARLnow exclusively reported last week, Rose was released from Arlington County jail this past February after the 2020 case against him fell apart when a judge ruled that evidence was obtained during an unconstitutional search of his bag. With the gun and the drugs allegedly found in Rose’s bag disallowed as evidence, prosecutors dropped the charges against him, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Rose spent nearly two years in jail awaiting trial before being freed when charges were dropped.

“As court records show, our office attempted to proceed on those charges, but during a suppression hearing, a judge ruled that the police had performed an unconstitutional search and, as the law required, suppressed the evidence in the case,” Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow last week. “Obviously, we could not prove a case without the evidence, and therefore dismissed it.”

“My heart breaks for the families and loved ones of the people killed this weekend,” she added.

Dehghani-Tafti subsequently said on Twitter, in response to criticism from the Virginia Republican party, that she’s “not casting blame on anyone” for the case falling apart.

The Arlington Coalition of Police, however, suggests that Dehghani-Tafti should be taking more of the blame, accusing her of “attempting to throw police officers under the bus for a lost [evidence] suppression hearing.”

The full statement from the union is below.

Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti’s recent statements regarding the suppression hearing for Francis Rose, intentionally worded to cast fault on the officers involved, were based on self-preservation and deflection of blame.  Unlike the Commonwealth Attorney, the Arlington Coalition of Police ordered the transcript of the hearing to have a full understanding of what happened before making public comment.

Prior to the hearing, the Assistant Commonwealth Attorney handling the case believed there would be “no problem” regarding the suppression and believed the officer’s actions were lawful.  At the time of the suppression hearing, Mr. Rose had spent approximately two years in jail awaiting trial. The Commonwealth Attorney opposed giving him bond on multiple occasions.  If the Commonwealth Attorney believed the actions of the officers were unlawful, opposing bond and holding Mr. Rose for two years would be unethical.

Following the suppression decision, a competent Commonwealth Attorney would have either appealed the decision if they still believed in the case, or provided training to the police department to make sure similar issues wouldn’t arise in the future.  Neither option was taken by the Commonwealth Attorney, showing her ineptitude for the position.  Instead, Ms. Dehghani-Tafti did nothing regarding the case until it became news and she needed to deflect blame.

Successful prosecutions rely on a collaborative effort between police officers and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.  The CWA’s Office must understand each case, and should communicate with all witnesses, including police officers, to properly prepare for trial. The CWA’s Office, since Ms. Dehghani-Tafti’s election, has suffered incredible turnover of experienced attorneys through the initial round of firings and continuing resignations.  Those experienced attorneys are being replaced with new, inexperienced staff. Unfortunately for this case, the high turnover rate in the CWA office, combined with the lack of experience in both trials and suppression hearings, made them no match for a veteran defense attorney with decades of real courtroom experience.

The Arlington County Police Department is composed of highly educated officers who work hard each day to take dangerous criminals off the street.  ACOP stands behind the actions of the officers that lead to the arrest of Mr. Rose.

Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of the Alexandria victims related to this incident.  Hopefully we (yes, “we” collectively) can do better in the future to avoid another tragedy like this one.

Dehghani-Tafti called the statement “disappointing” and “a political attack on our office when I myself did not use the occasion to denigrate police work.”

More from Dehghani-Tafti’s response to ARLnow:

It is shocking for ACOPS to accuse our office of a breach of ethics because we asked for Mr. Rose to be held pending trial. We did so because we believed he posed a danger and because we believed the case was worth litigating; there was nothing unethical about the Commonwealth litigating the case until Mr. Rose won his motion. The motion was ably argued by a prosecutor with nearly a decade of experience, more than five of which have been in this Office, and a record of successfully defending police work in prior cases involving constitutional and evidentiary challenges. It was decided by a well-respected judge with 29 years of experience on the bench. Those are the facts. As professionals, we recognize once the issues are fairly litigated, our feelings don’t matter.

The ACOPS surely is aware our office regularly trains the ACPD on constitutional issues (including Fourth Amendment), on testifying, and legislative updates — and we have always been available for consultation as a proactive matter and in the moment. We will continue to do so.

A court transcript of the hearing that resulted in evidence being suppressed and the charges being dropped, provided to ARLnow by ACOP, shows an assistant commonwealth’s attorney arguing that evidence found in Rose’s bag should be allowed.

“Again, I agree that if he had been standing on the side of the road and the police wanted to search his bag, they would have to have probable cause to search him and the bag by extension of his person,” the prosecutor argued. “But just because the bag is on his person in the car, doesn’t change the fact that that is an item that is then subject to the probable cause search for the marijuana based upon the odor of marijuana.”

In the end, the judge agreed with the defense that because Rose was wearing that bag, was a passenger in the car and did not himself smell of marijuana, the search of the bag was unconstitutional.

Despite criticism from local Republicans and others about Dehghani-Tafti’s progressive prosecutorial philosophy, the police association has up until now been silent about its views on her.

“COPS hasn’t spoken about the CA until now,” the organization’s president, Randall Mason, said in response to questions from ARLnow. “It’s our view that we should be working together in our efforts for criminal justice. We haven’t been on board with all the things that the CA has done. However, attacking the second member of a two party collaboration is both destructive to the relationship and in poor taste.”

“We are releasing this statement now because the CA intentionally tried to direct blame on the police in this case when there is plenty to blame on her office,” Mason added.

Mason declined to discuss other officer concerns about Dehghani-Tafti’s office, and said the organization “respects” Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman’s ruling “based on the arguments and evidence that he had in from of him.”

However, he said the police union believes “this was a good search that was poorly handled at suppression.”

“The officers could have been more prepared to testify,” Mason said. “Historically, CAs would go over a motion to suppress with the officer ahead of time and discuss anticipated issues and testimony. That did not occur in this case.”

Rose, meanwhile, remains in jail in Alexandria on burglary charges, but has not yet been charged with the murders as of this afternoon.

“At this juncture, all I can say is that the police department continues to actively investigate the matter,” Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter told our sister site, ALXnow.

Rose is also facing an armed burglary charge from a June incident in Alexandria. A warrant was issued for his arrest prior to the murders but police were unable to locate him, NBC 4 previously reported.