Arlington, VA

(Updated at 9:50 p.m.) Arlington County police officers who were assisting U.S. Park Police during protests in D.C. have been ordered “to immediately leave,” County Board Chair Libby Garvey tweeted Monday night.

Officers in ACPD helmets could be seen in photos and video (below) assisting with the forceful removal of protesters from around St. John’s Church, an action that involved the deployment of tear gas. Shortly thereafter, President Trump walked to the church and held up a bible, a move dismissed as a photo opportunity by critics and criticized as “antithetical to the teachings of Jesus” by the Episcopal bishop of Washington.

“Appalled mutual aid agreement abused to endanger their and others safety for a photo op,” Garvey wrote just before 9 p.m., about two hours after the incident. “We ordered @ArlingtonVaPD to immediately leave DC.”

“At the direction of the County Board, County Manager and Police Chief, all ACPD officers left the District of Columbia at 8:30 tonight,” the county subsequently said in a brief statement. “The County is re-evaluating the agreements that allowed our officers to be put in a compromising position that endangered their health and safety, and that of the people around them, for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.”

County police in riot gear were assisting with crowd control in Lafayette Square, near the White House, following a mutual aid request from Park Police. Such requests are typically used for suspect searches or to assist with significant incidents; Arlington often requests the assistance of the U.S. Park Police helicopter, for instance.

Following inquiries from ARLnow, after we noticed ACPD helmets in a TV news broadcast Sunday night, a police spokeswoman earlier today confirmed that Arlington police were indeed in D.C. after a mutual aid request.

“ACPD’s Civil Disturbance Unit responded to a mutual aid request by United States Park Police for assistance maintain peace and order on federal park land,” department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. “ACPD began providing support [Sunday].”

The department has worked to maintain a positive relationship with the community over the years, including by handing out water to protesters in Arlington on Sunday. On Friday, amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, police chief M. Jay Farr released a statement.

“It is impossible for us to achieve our mission if we lose the trust of our community,” he wrote. “When force is used, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions.”

“We work and live by a set of core values: courage, competence, commitment, compassion, restraint, respect and integrity,” the department says in its job description for new officers.

Separately Monday night, Arlington County issued a statement regarding Floyd’s killing.

“The Arlington County Board condemns the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, including the complicit officers who participated in and witnessed the murder,” the statement reads. “While the video was shocking, the circumstances of the murder should not be; they are too familiar in a nation where the disregard for and devaluing of Black lives is too common, and too often comes at the hands of the people sworn to protect them.”

Screenshot (top) via @thehill/Twitter

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Arlington and Northern Virginia are expected to begin a phased reopening on Friday.

“That’s the plan,” Gov. Ralph Northam said of the partial reopening during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. The region will be joining much of the rest of the state, which started its “Phase 1” reopening on May 15.

The first phase of the reopening will see non-essential businesses — salons, barber shops, restaurants, gyms, etc. — reopen with additional cleaning, safety precautions and social distancing. Among Virginia’s Phase 1 guidelines are:

  • “Retail establishments may operate at 50% capacity”
  • “Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer outdoor dining at 50% occupancy”
  • “Personal grooming services may operate with one patron per service provider”
  • “Fitness centers may offer outdoor exercise services”

In a letter to Northam sent over the holiday weekend, Northern Virginia leaders wrote that four key health metrics were pointing in a positive direction, making a reopening possible. Northam said today that statewide numbers were likewise looking good, though he emphasized that the coronavirus is continuing to infect people, making it necessary to continue taking steps to mitigate the spread.

“The virus is clearly still here, but the numbers are trending in the right direction,” Northam said.

The governor announced Tuesday that masks will be made mandatory in indoor public spaces, including businesses, starting Friday. The state’s mask requirement will have some exceptions, including for eating, children under 10, and those with health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.

“Science shows us that the virus spreads less easily when wearing a face covering,” Northam said. “I’m asking people to do the right thing, to respect one another.”

Enforcement of the mask requirement will done by the Virginia Dept. of Health, not police, the governor said.

“This is not a criminal matter… it won’t be enforced by law enforcement,” he said. Northam’s chief of staff said having police enforce the mask requirement could cause “tremendous equity issues,” adding that the governor is hoping that a special session of the General Assembly over the summer could approve a civil fine for noncompliance.

The state health department will have the ability to take action against “grossly negligent actors” — businesses that refuse to enforce the requirement. First would come a warning, then the state health department could seek a court order to rescind the business license.

Northam said the universal wearing of masks protects everyone, including workers, who “are especially vulnerable.” A mask could be something as simple as a bandana or “a piece of cloth and some rubber bands,” the governor said.

Arlington County is planning to distribute free masks in the coming weeks.

The efficacy of wearing masks was discussed by Virginia Hospital Center emergency room chief Mike Silverman, in a public Facebook post on Friday.

“We follow the CDC guidelines at work with masking both parties (provider/RN and patients when they can) and we’ve had a remarkably low rate of staff getting sick. Masks work… and work better when everyone is wearing them,” Silverman write. “Be smart. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And stay inside and away from others if you’re sick.”

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Exactly two months after closing amid the pandemic, Arlington’s parks are partially reopening in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Arlington County made the announcement shortly before 1 p.m., noting that a number of park amenities will remain closed.

“While parks will reopen, amenities in the parks such as playgrounds, picnic shelters, athletic courts, restrooms and dog parks will remain closed,” said a press release. “The County’s nearly 49 miles of trails and community gardens remain open, as they have throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spraygrounds, tracks and skate parks are also still closed, the county said in a Q&A page. Some facilities may reopen early next month.

“Arlington anticipates a phased reopening of its Parks and Recreation facilities, with open spaces as a first step,” county officials wrote. “In early June, the County plans to reopen athletic fields (with restrictions), batting cages, dog parks, pickleball courts, shelters (with restrictions), tennis courts and outdoor tracks. As the County looks towards reopening additional park amenities, we will continue to monitor guidance from the national, state and local health officials.”

Summer camps and programs, however, remain cancelled.

Park-goers are being asked to maintain physical distancing — staying at least 6 feet apart — and groups of visitors should not exceed 10 people. Organized sports are still banned.

“Arlington County Police, park rangers, and park rovers will be monitoring parks, trails, playgrounds and fields to ensure people are social distancing and that groups are no bigger than 10 people,” the county said.

A growing scientific consensus suggests that the risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is very low, though those who cannot maintain a safe distance from others are still encouraged to wear masks. Brief exposure from walking and jogging is likewise thought to carry few risks, though talking or singing in close proximity to one another for a sustained period of time may still be risky, even outdoors.

More on the park reopening from the county press release, below.

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New data from the Virginia Dept. of Health suggests there is not nearly enough coronavirus testing being done in Arlington.

The state health department has added testing data, sortable by locality, to its COVID-19 information page. The data for Arlington shows that there are currently only around 150 virus tests being performed and reported per day, and an average positivity rate just above 25%.

While that’s in line with overall figures discussed by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this week — about 25% positivity in Northern Virginia compared to 10% for the rest of the state — it’s well above the 10% positivity rate that the World Health Organization recommends as an indication of adequate testing.

The VDH data only includes PCR tests reported by labs and excludes serology tests and, presumably, less sensitive tests on point-of-care machines like the Abbott Labs device used by the White House.

The lack of testing is a hindrance to hopes for a safe, phased reopening of Arlington and the rest of Northern Virginia. While the rest of the Commonwealth starts to reopen today, Gov. Ralph Northam is — for now — giving Northern Virginia and some other localities until Friday, May 29. Arlington County officials have said it’s too soon to safely reopen here.

Unless the testing rate increases, labs will be testing less than 2% of the Arlington population each month, despite efforts like the new walk-up testing site along Columbia Pike. County officials have said that increased testing is one of the five conditions that should be met in order for Arlington to start reopening.

The state health department, meanwhile, reported 35 new COVID-19 cases in Arlington overnight, bringing the county’s total known cases to 1,534. One additional death and only one new hospitalization were reported, bringing those totals to 71 and 306 respectively.

Statewide, VDH is reporting 28,672 total cases, 3,657 hospitalization, 977 deaths and 176,681 PCR-based “testing encounters.”

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Takis Karantonis, the former director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, will be the Democratic nominee for County Board in the upcoming July 7 special election.

With just days to select a nominee ahead of Friday’s court-set filing deadline, the Arlington County Democratic Committee — despite efforts to get the election date pushed back — opted for a ranked choice voting process among party insiders.

Karantonis bested three other candidates seeking to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Also seeking the nomination were School Board member Barbara Kanninen, refugee and military veteran Chanda Choun, and former state Senate candidate Nicole Merlene.

“Arlington Democrats are excited to announce Takis Karantonis as our party’s nominee for the Arlington County Board,” Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said in a press release. “Takis has the experience, acumen and integrity to build upon the progressive record of Erik Gutshall. We’ll hit the ground running today to ensure his victory on July 7.”

Karantonis will likely face at least one other candidate when voters head to the polls. Susan Cunningham, a civically-involved mother of two, announced her intention to run as an independent earlier this week.

The full Democratic press release is below, after the jump.

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(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A fight in the Penrose Square Giant led to a series of events that closed portions of two major roads and prompted a massive police response.

Police were dispatched to the grocery store around 2:30 p.m. for a report of a disturbance in the store, potentially involving a weapon. After arriving, an officer was nearly struck by a fleeing vehicle.

“A dispute between known individuals occurred inside a business in the 2500 block of 9th Road S.,” said Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “A responding officer, who was on foot, attempted to stop the vehicle in the parking lot. The driver refused to comply, drove through a parking gate and fled the scene.”

More from Wednesday’s ACPD crime report:

A lookout was broadcast and officers located the vehicle at Arlington Boulevard and 10th Street N. A traffic stop was initiated and the subjects were detained without incident. Victoria Lawson, 26, of Washington D.C. was arrested and charged with Felony Eluding, Felony Destruction of Property, Assault and Battery, Felony Child Abuse and Neglect (x4) and Possession of Marijuana.

The eastbound lanes of Route 50 near Courthouse were blocked by the vehicle stop, which involved nearly a dozen police cars.

“Looks like they arrested someone from a car… then it looked like there were some kids pulled out from the car as well,” a tipster told ARLnow.

While responding to the fight at the grocery store, one officer in a marked police SUV was involved in a crash on S. Walter Reed Drive, which closed a portion of the street for a period of time.

“While responding to the incident, an officer was involved in a crash at S. Walter Reed Drive and 16th Street S.,” Savage said. “The officer was evaluated on scene by medics. The driver of the other vehicle was transported to an area hospital with minor injuries. The crash remains under investigation.”

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Police are investigating the killing of a 45-year-old Arlington man last night.

Arlington County Police say the man was found shot to death in the driver’s seat of a car around 10 p.m. Thursday, in the Green Valley neighborhood.

“This is the second homicide in Arlington County in 2020,” police noted. So far there’s no word on any suspects or possible motive.

More from ACPD:

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating a homicide that took place in the Green Valley neighborhood on the evening of April 23, 2020.

At approximately 9:54 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a suspicious vehicle in the 1900 block of S. Lowell Street. Upon arrival, officers approached the vehicle and located the male victim deceased in the driver’s seat suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. The victim has been identified as Marshall Stephens, 45, of Arlington, VA.

This incident remains an active criminal investigation. Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to contact Detective J. Trainer of the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4185 or [email protected] Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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An Arlington sheriff’s deputy has tested positive for COVID-19, raising fears of a wider outbreak in the county jail.

In a press release Thursday night, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office said the ailing employee is “is doing well and managing the illness at home, with the full support of family and the office.”

The Sheriff’s Office performs a number of law enforcement functions in Arlington, the most prominent of which is running the Arlington County Detention Center.

“Public Health officials have initiated contact tracing of the individual to determine any potential spread to other personnel, inmates or the community whom they have come into close contact with,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “Individuals will be contacted directly if Public Health officials determine you may have been exposed. ACSO and Public Health will continue to monitor the individual’s condition and take necessary steps should any other agency personnel or inmates present symptoms.”

There have been calls nationwide — including by Arlington’s reform-minded top prosecutor —  to release non-violent offenders from jails and prisons due to the risk of rapid outbreaks in such facilities.

There are currently 225 inmates at the jail, according to ACSO spokeswoman Maj. Tara Johnson. That’s well below its capacity, which is currently in the mid-500s, Johnson said.

The Sheriff’s Office said it is taking a number of steps to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including daily temperature checks and symptom screening of staff and inmates, plus everything from daily cleanings to using disposable trays for meals.

“The steps the Sheriff’s Office has taken are continually reviewed by the Command Staff, which follows recommendations by the Virginia Department of Health,” the agency said. “These steps have and will continue to be modified regularly in order to best combat COVID-19. The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office takes the health and welfare of staff, the public and those placed into custody in the highest regard, treating every individual with dignity and respect and taking great pride and care in all work.”

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(Updated at 10:30 p.m.) N. Glebe Road is blocked between Walker Chapel and Chain Bridge by a serious crash.

The single-vehicle crash happened shortly after 7:30 p.m. and drew a large rescue response. Firefighters extricated at two injured people from a heavily-damaged car, near the Military Road/Old Glebe Road overpass.

There were a total of three vehicle occupants and all three were injured, according to an Arlington County Fire Department spokesman. The driver suffered non-life-threatening injuries, a passenger suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, and another passenger is fighting for his life with critical injuries, said Capt. Justin Tirelli.

All three were transported to local hospitals. A crowd gathered on the bridge as police interviewed witnesses.

After the crash, debris could be seen on the hillside leading down to Glebe from Old Glebe. Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage later confirmed to ARLnow that the car had rolled down the embankment.

The road remains closed as a result of the cleanup and investigation. Drivers are being encouraged to avoid the area.

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Arlington County Police are now on scene of a big traffic jam on Columbia Pike reportedly caused by a food giveaway.

Initial reports suggest that the Mega Market Express, at 5001 Columbia Pike in the Pike Plaza shopping center, is giving away hundreds of meals as part of a promotion announced on Facebook. Police were not informed of the giveaway in advance, according to scanner traffic.

A large crowd has gathered around the store and Columbia Pike is jammed with traffic in both directions. Streets approaching the Pike like S. Dinwiddie Street are also at a standstill.

“This is absolutely insane,” said ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott, after arriving on scene. “No one is practicing social distancing.”

Officers are working to spread out the crowd and get traffic moving again. As of 5 p.m., the store had closed and was beginning to hand out certificates to let people pick up their giveaway items at a later time, according to scanner traffic.

Arlington’s emergency alert system is encouraging people to avoid the area.

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(Updated at 11:40 a.m.) Former Arlington County Board member Erik Gutshall has died after a battle with brain cancer.

Gutshall’s passing comes a month and a half after the initial word that he was hospitalized, and ten days after his sudden resignation from the County Board.

Gutshall’s wife Renee made the sad announcement on Facebook Thursday night.

It is with a broken heart that I share this news…. today the sweetest, most amazing man has lost his battle with brain cancer. It was only 8 weeks ago that Erik Gutshall received this diagnosis, leaving us too quickly but peacefully today surrounded in love by his family.

Erik Gutshall
April 28, 1970 – April 16, 2020

We’ll share information about a memorial service once we’re beyond the current COVID-19 crisis.

Gutshall was first elected to the Board in November 2017, after serving on the county’s Planning Commission and Transportation Commission.

“Mr. Gutshall has supported strong public engagement and thoughtful planning to ensure that private development contributes to residents’ quality of life and that any potential negative impacts of development are mitigated,” according to his official county biography.

Flags outside county government headquarters in Courthouse will fly half-mast for seven days in tribute to Gutshall, the county said Friday in a press release that also included tributes from his colleagues.

“Erik was a visionary when it came to our community,” said Board Member Katie Cristol. “He understood how every neighborhood plan, park and bus route affected people’s lives and connected us to one another as fellow citizens. I feel so fortunate to have learned from and worked with Erik as a colleague and a friend and am devastated by the loss of an extraordinary Arlingtonian.”

As a County Board member, Gutshall served on the board of the Virginia Association of Counties and on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Air Quality Committee.

Gutshall was a graduate of James Madison University and received a master’s degree from George Washington University. He was also the owner of a small local business, Clarendon Home Services, and the father of three daughters.

Earlier this year, Gutshall outlined his priorities for Arlington in 2020. He said that this was a year for Arlington to “level up” with the continued arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, a “pivotal, definitive event” in the county’s history. With it, however, would come challenges — like housing affordability — that need to be addressed for the benefit of all residents, he said.

“Today is proof that even a distant future will one day come to pass,” Gutshall said, in conclusion. “I’m honored to work on this next level with my amazing colleagues, talented Manager and his brilliant staff, and the passionate citizens who I know care about this community as much as each of us.”

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