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Police at Peace Officers Memorial Day ceremony in 2019 (file photo)

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) The number of sworn police officers on the streets in Arlington has dipped below 300 amid retirements and officers leaving for more lucrative positions, including at Amazon’s HQ2.

Multiple sources within the department have expressed concern about the shrinking police force, telling ARLnow that officer morale is low and stagnant wages have led many to consider leaving. Among those departing is a deputy chief, said to be among a number of officers who have taken security jobs at HQ2.

“There is a mass exodus from within the Arlington County Police Department,” said one of several people inside the department who have reached out to ARLnow, on the condition of anonymity. “Many officers are leaving for better paying positions in the private sector, including Amazon HQ2… the county hasn’t provided a pay raise in roughly three years.”

“The police department is currently severely understaffed,” said another tipster. “Morale is extremely low. Based on survey results, another 40+ officers plan to leave before the end of the year. I hate to say it, but the police department is a sinking ship right now.”

ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage acknowledged that while the overall number of officers is little changed since a 2018 restructuring prompted by staffing challenges then, the number of sworn officers actually out on patrol is, in fact, down at the moment — and below the 300 mark.

“ACPD’s authorized strength is 376 sworn officers with 10 of those positions frozen during the FY 2022 budget,” Savage said. “Currently, our on-board sworn staff is 346 officers. Functionally, we are operating below this number as approximately 45 members are in a training status to become a solo police officer and 10 are on light-duty assignments due to medical needs.”

Arlington County Police Department staffing (via ACPD)

Savage noted that police departments across the country are facing staffing challenges amid the pandemic and in the wake of anti-police-violence protests last summer following the killing of George Floyd.

“Law enforcement agencies across our region and the U.S. are struggling to retain qualified police officers and finding it equally challenging to recruit new members to the profession,” she said. “Here in Arlington, the police department completed a strategic restructuring in 2018 due to a significant reduction in our workforce. Since then, we have been successful in hiring larger classes of recruit officers, but this has not offset the number of departures due to attrition, retirements and officers seeking other opportunities.”

Police departments in Alexandria, Baltimore and elsewhere have reported similar issues with low staffing levels.

“The department continues to prioritize core services by responding to in-progress crimes and emergency calls for service where there is an immediate threat to life, health or property; investigating crimes against people and serious property crimes; and engaging and building community partnerships with those we serve,” Savage said. “There are currently 23 recruit officers in training who will be released to solo patrol at the beginning of November. At that time, we will review our allocation of resources to determine if they meet current staffing requirements.”

But officers are continuing to leave the department, sources tell ARLnow.

At least two officers announced their resignation since Wednesday night, we’re told. A recent survey conducted by Arlington’s police union found that nearly 100 officers — about 40% of respondents — are planning to leave ACPD within a year.

One department source called the figure “staggering.”

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A now-former Arlington elections official is facing charges after police say she improperly removed someone from the voter roll.

Tyra Baker turned herself in on August 26, according to Arlington County police, after arrest warrants were issued in connection to an incident last fall involving Baker’s service in the elections office. She was released on bond but is due to be arraigned in court today (Thursday) on charges of voter intimidation, a misdemeanor, and election official corrupt conduct, a felony, according to court records.

A person with knowledge of the situation, who wished to remain anonymous, tells ARLnow that it started with a dispute over money at Baker’s family-run funeral home in Green Valley.

Baker managed the Chinn Baker Funeral Service on S. Shirlington Road, which was owned by her father until his death in 2018. Family members accused Baker of financial impropriety, leading to a physical confrontation last summer, the person said.

Baker was arrested after that alleged incident and charged with assault.

“At approximately 3:10 p.m. on June 27, 2020, police were dispatched to the 2600 block of Shirlington Road for the report of a domestic dispute,” said Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Kirby Clark. “Tyra Baker, 51, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Domestic Assault and Battery. As the incident was domestic in nature, further details are protected under Virginia Code.”

Baker pleaded not guilty to the assault charge in Arlington General District Court. Her next court appearance in that case is set for May 2022, according to court records.

At the time of her arrest, Baker was still a part-time worker in the Arlington elections office.

Baker “worked as a seasonal Assistant Registrar since 2008,” Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said via a county spokeswoman, adding that she has also “served for several decades as an election officer on Election Day.”

The person familiar with the situation said the individual Baker is accused of subsequently removing from the voter roll was the assault victim. Police declined to confirm that, citing the need to “best protect the identity of the victim in each case.” The person removed from the roll only became aware of it after trying to vote in the pivotal fall 2020 general election.

“In October 2020, the victim attempted to vote in Arlington County, but was informed she was previously removed from the voter roll and unable to cast a ballot,” Clark tells ARLnow. “The victim subsequently filed an official complaint with the Arlington County Office of Elections. In December 2020, the Arlington County Police Department was contacted by Special Prosecutor Tony Kostelecky of the Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office regarding the case and began to investigate.”

“Follow-up investigation by detectives determined that the suspect was working as an Assistant Registrar in the Arlington County Office of Elections when she removed the known victim from the voter roll without proper authorization and without completing adequate documentation,” Clark continued. “Warrants were obtained for Tyra Baker, 51, of Arlington, Va., for § 24.2-607 Prohibited conduct; intimidation of voters; disturbance of election; how prevented; penalties and § 24.2-1001 Willful neglect or corrupt conduct. Baker turned herself in at the Office of the Magistrate on August 26, 2021, where she was served the warrants, and subsequently released on an unsecured bond.”

Reinemeyer described the incident as “isolated” but declined to provide specific information about the allegation. Generally, she said, voters who cannot cast a standard ballot at the polls are allowed to cast a provisional ballot pending further investigation.

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On a quiet residential street near Arlington Blvd, cars can be heard accelerating as they turn a corner, with their aftermarket exhaust giving off a loud “roar.”

Meanwhile, near Columbia Pike, cars rev up and drag race on S. Columbus Street by Wakefield High School.

“I’m eight stories up — not at street level, so to speak — so maybe you expect the noise to dissipate,” Betsy Thomassen tells ARLnow. “It’s Wednesday, and it’s happened five to six times… it’s just incredibly loud and a nuisance. In my condo, my furniture sometimes vibrates. That’s kind of incredible really.”

According to residents who have spoken to ARLnow, and who’ve posted on social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor, there been a surge in modified cars speeding through neighborhoods. Some residents say the uptick is particularly bad along the Columbia Pike corridor and in the Clarendon area, and along the highways that crisscross the county.

“Anywhere there’s a corridor, you have high performance cars,” said Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association President David Cheek, who even compiled a video, below, of modified cars roaring through his neighborhood. “It’s really rude to accelerate in an area with a lot of people, in a loud car, but there’s a ‘do whatever you want’ mentality.”

After nearly a year of receiving more complaints than usual, the County Board is preparing to take a number of steps to mitigate noise in Arlington and enforce noise maximums on cars and motorcycles, according to Board member Takis Karantonis.

One avenue members are pursuing is via the state legislature. The Board aims to have something on their legislative agenda for the next regular session in January, Karantonis said. They’re also looking to train police officers to engage drivers in conversations and get them to change their attitudes.

“I think that the County Board as a whole is interested in a way to enforce and discourage overwhelmingly noisy motoring in Arlington, especially in neighborhoods,” he said.

Diagnosing the problem 

A lot of the especially noisy cars are running aftermarket exhaust systems made for racing, Cheek said. He theorizes that with extra time on their hands during the pandemic, more folks got interested in car modifications.

There is an entire, sophisticated industry around these mufflers, but there is very little regulation, Karantonis said, adding that he understands that modified cars sell like hotcakes in motoring and touring fairs.

One reader told ARLnow that the new noise isn’t always associated with higher speeds.

“They often ‘sound’ as though they are also speeding, yet I’ve seen several that are loud, but didn’t appear to be speeding,” one said. “I suspect that those nature of the modifications.”

As a car and motorcycle enthusiast, Cheek said he understands the appeal of modifying a vehicle and wanting to enjoy it.

“I feel for them,” he said. “But they have to understand there are a lot of people who’re upset about it — on Columbia Pike and in  Clarendon — and that it’s not fair to everyone else.”

He added that noise pollution “isn’t just annoying — it impacts your mental health, and it actually affects your life.”

Considering legislation

Karantonis said there are a few paths on the table, from enacting legislation to educating drivers.

Legislative action will be somewhat tricky, in part because a new state law went into effect in March that says police officers cannot initiate a traffic stop for, among other things, loud mufflers. The code still allows drivers to be ticketed for noise if they were pulled over for a violation such as speeding.

The law, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), was passed to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops, as some police officers historically used pretextual reasons — such as a loud car or expired tags — to pull over residents and search their cars.

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(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) A pair of Columbia Pike businesses say they’re planning to leave when their leases are up due to parking challenges at a county-financed garage.

Lost Dog Cafe and Joule Wellness Pharmacy both tell ARLnow that relatively high and confusing parking fees in the garage are costing them thousands of dollars a year in customer business. The owners of both say they will not be renewing their leases when they expire come 2023 and 2024, respectively.

“This parking issue has made it so untenable,” says Lost Dog Cafe franchise owner Jim Barnes. “We link this to our sales and our sales are not good. There’s a correlation with this parking lot.”

The parking garage, located at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive, is owned by Ballston-based apartment developer AvalonBay. However, it was built based as part of an unusual 2006 agreement with Arlington County.

The county contributed $2.96 million to its construction with the promise of receiving 45% of parking revenue as a form of payback every month going forward, according to the “public parking development agreement” obtained by ARLnow.

It is one of only two parking garages in the county that has an agreement of this nature, county officials confirm, with the other also along Columbia Pike, at Penrose Square.

The agreement does not specify a duration for which the county will continue to receive the parking revenue and county officials declined to provide an “interpretation” of whether that could mean into perpetuity.

They also didn’t specify how much revenue the garage generated for the county in 2020.

The parking garage is owned by AvalonBay and was acquired by the company with its $102 million purchase of the since-renamed Avalon Columbia Pike apartment building — formerly the Halstead Arlington — in 2016.

While this agreement had been in place for a decade and a half, initially signed by a different developer, a majority of the issues for the businesses started in March 2020, just days before the pandemic began to hit Arlington.

That’s when, according to Lost Dog and Joule Wellness, the parking machines were turned on and enforced for the first time in years.

Lost Dog Cafe, a franchisee of the original in Westover, moved into 2920 Columbia Pike in May 2009. At the time, Barnes said that parking was free after 5 p.m. and on weekends, which he says was an adequate compromise. A large portion of their customer-base came when parking was free anyway, with the garage able to earn revenue at other times, he says.

When AvalonBay purchased the building, notes Barnes, those restrictions went away and the parking machines were turned off. Enforcement also stopped.

Then four years later, with little notice according to the businesses, the machines were turned back on, enforcement restarted, and parking fees were being charged 24/7. The machines require drivers to pay for parking in advance, and anyone who fails to do so — or who overstays the amount of time they paid for — gets ticketed or towed.

A sign outside the garage advertises a parking rate of $1.75 per hour, which can be paid via a cash-only machine inside the garage. Barnes claims the machine “has never worked” and “steals people’s money.”

Drivers can also use the ParkMobile app, but poor cell phone reception in the garage makes that difficult, and the app charges $2.25 for the first hour.

“Customers cannot use their phones to access it infuriating them and they simply choose to no longer come to our business as a result,” Barnes said.

Paid street parking is available nearby, but is limited. Parking on surrounding neighborhood streets, meanwhile, often requires a residential decal, and nearby parking lots are restricted to other businesses and their customers.

AvalonBay, in an email to ARLnow, disputes Barnes’ version of events, writing that parking was being collected prior to March 2020.

“Equipment had been in place and parking revenue was collected prior to March 2020,” writes a company representative. “In March 2020, an updated parking system was installed with the County’s approval.”

Barnes, however, says that he received “no notice whatsoever” about the change or any updates.

The management of Joule Wellness Pharmacy, which opened its Pike location in early 2014, said they did receive notice, but it was only two to three weeks prior to the change. What’s more, they said there’s no mention of paid parking in their lease.

“There was not no mention of that in our lease,” says manager Alex Tekie. “And in fact, we’re told parking is free for us and our employees and for customers coming on the retail side.”

Tekie and pharmacy owner Winnie Tewelde tell ARLnow they now shell out nearly $800 a month in parking, mostly so employees can park in the lot.

They’ve talked a lawyer about the situation, but grew weary of paying even more money to fight the parking changes against a large, publicly-traded developer.

“We got exhausted. Drained,” says Tekie. “It’s David vs. Goliath.”

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U.S. Postal Inspection officer at the N. George Mason Drive Post Office on Oct. 13, 2020

One of five individuals implicated in a scheme to steal mail from Postal Service boxes around Arlington County has pleaded guilty.

Aaron Kyle Johnson pleaded guilty in Alexandria federal court on May 28 in connection to the scheme, which lasted more than a year, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office tells ARLnow.

A statement of facts document entered with the guilty plea says that Johnson and his co-conspirators stole mail from blue mailboxes around Arlington, including those outside the post offices in Buckingham and on N. George Mason Drive, using a USPS master key known as an “arrow key.”

The document does not say how the suspects obtained the key and prosecutors did not provide additional detail after inquiries by ARLnow. In a discussion on an online forum among numerous residents who reported having their mail stolen, one resident reported having been told by law enforcement that the key was stolen from a postal employee at gunpoint.

The crime spree started in late 2019 and continued until March 2021, according to the document. There were numerous victims, including individuals and local businesses. ARLnow’s initial report detailing numerous reports of mail thefts, mostly from the George Mason Drive post office, was published in October 2020 after we photographed a U.S. Postal Inspection investigator kneeling besides one of the post office’s blue boxes.

The suspects, prosecutors say, would steal checks from mailed letters and fraudulently deposit them at local banks, using false identification and forgery. In one case, a $21,000 check from an Arlington business was stolen and “altered such that it was made payable to ‘John Martian,'” according to the document.

In early March 2021, Johnson and another defendant were found “in possession of approximately 150 personal checks and approximately 50 business checks drafted by individuals and businesses located in and around Arlington County, Virginia, many of which were stolen from the mail in or around Arlington County,” the document says. “Some of the checks were in the process of being altered.”

Johnson and another suspect also kept records of personally-identifiable information gleaned from stolen mail, prosecutors say.

The suspects “disposed of any mail that had no value to the defendant or his co-conspirators such that the mail” — which would have been anything from greeting cards to smaller bill payments — “could not reach its intended recipients,” the document said.

The scheme was perpetrated for financial gain, allowing Johnson to purchase “numerous luxury items,” among other things.

“Between no later than 2019 and in or around March 2021, the defendant used the proceeds gleaned from mail theft, bank fraud, and/or identity theft to enrich himself, including purchases of numerous luxury items, clothing, and apartment rentals,” said the statement of facts, which Johnson admitted to as part of his plea.

The scheme was almost foiled in February 2020 when the stolen key became stuck in a blue USPS collection box in Arlington. Johnson and his co-conspirators discussed what to do, and finally a few hours later one suspect was able to dislodge it, according to the document.

Prosecutors identified four other suspects in the case.

Keshawna Howard, who has a July 27 trial date; Jose Reyes, who is in law enforcement custody in Maryland; Malcom Ward, who was arrested this past Monday on bank fraud charges; and Miles Ward, Malcom’s brother, who died in March. The cause of Miles Ward’s death was not disclosed.

A U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesperson declined comment when reached by ARLnow in late May, citing an “active investigation.”

Johnson’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 24.

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(Updated at 10:35 a.m.) A public-records request sheds light on how the Arlington County Police Department justified a change to what the public can hear via police radio channels.

The Freedom of Information Act inquiry by ARLnow uncovered documents about the department’s March change to encrypt more radio chatter. The documents cited safety and security concerns, including some related to last summer’s police reform protests and the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.

Whereas the public — including news outlets like ARLnow and local TV stations — used to be able to hear more details about a police incident in progress in Arlington, now in most circumstances only the initial dispatch and basic information from the scene can be heard.

“Once a call for service is stabilized, it may be moved to an encrypted channel to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public interacting with law enforcement and for tactical, operational and investigatory security reasons,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in an email.

Authorities drafted a policy and created a memo in February after a workgroup focused on police radio traffic hashed out details and the department’s now-permanent police chief, Charles “Andy” Penn, wrote that he expected “questions/complaints” about the encryption.

The Feb. 23 police memo gives information about why the department encrypted an administrative channel and details that other channels were encrypted, too, including special ops for presidential and dignitary escorts and other special events, a civil disturbance unit’s operational channel, a frequently-used “talk around” channel for officers on the scenes of incident to communicate with one another, and an outreach zone channel involving school resource officers.

Authorities shared their reasoning in wanting to encrypt more channels, noting police in Illinois and Texas heard on their radios the hip-hop group N.W.A.’s anti-police song — apparently transmitted by someone with access to a radio capable of broadcasting on police channels — amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020.

“During the summer of 2020, protests and civil unrest across the country highlighted the growing threat to public safety communications and exposed its loopholes,” one email said. “Factions in Dallas and Chicago targeted these vulnerabilities by playing music over unencrypted radio channels, preventing legitimate use. This sort of tactic threatens both public safety personnel, who rely on the radio to communicate with each other, and the general public, who are in potential danger during an incident.”

An Arlington County document also stated that the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol rioting also involved bad actors trying to gain access to police radio systems to cause disruptions. Additional details were not given in emails obtained by ARLnow, some of which were redacted.

“We also took into consideration the events of January 6 as we witnessed bad actors actively trying to gain access to radio systems to cause disruptions,” one email said.

When asked about the alleged Jan. 6 police radio incident, Savage said Wednesday in an email that they weren’t aware of this happening on ACPD’s own channels. In D.C., Metropolitan Police Department also noted they didn’t observe this.

But ACPD’s emails did cite unspecified incidents in which individuals used police transmissions to create disruptions.

“We have experienced numerous occasions where individuals created problems for first responders by having had access to information conveyed over unencrypted channels,” the department said in drafting its policy. “This includes but is not limited to people coming to scenes and disrupting or causing delays in the handling of the call.”

Without the added encryption, authorities say criminals could have advanced warning of police actions, citizens could arrive at a scene before emergency responders, and law enforcement tactics and movements could be compromised.

Savage said all dispatched calls for service, including emergencies such as an armed robbery or school shooting, are broadcast over the primary radio channel, which is not encrypted and available for monitoring by the media or interested members of the public, using either commercially-available scanner radios, online services or smartphone apps.

Savage noted the department shares information about some police incidents through daily reports, an online crime map, Arlington’s Open Data Portal, news releases and Arlington Alert for emergency notifications in the event of public safety threats and traffic disruptions.

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(Updated 4:55 p.m.) At 10:50 p.m. on Friday, Patrick McNair and his wife Danielle were getting ready to bed when they heard a crash. In a few seconds, the power went out.

Outside their home along the 4800 block of Old Dominion Drive, near Marymount University, they saw a mangled car starting to smoke.

“I put shoes on and ran as quickly as I could,” Patrick tells ARLnow.

By the time he got there, the car was so full of smoke he could not see in and no response came from inside when he knocked on the window. The door would not budge.

As he was bracing himself to break the window with his hand, he remembered his son’s baseball bat was in his car. Danielle unlocked the car and Patrick retrieved the bat and broke the window. He described the driver as unresponsive, with cuts, scrapes and what appeared to be a broken leg.

Another neighbor, Roger Casalengo, arrived and the two men managed to get the driver out of the car. They set her down 25 feet away and she revived enough to tell them no one else was in the car.

“At this point, the entire front of the hood is on fire, and all under the hood is on fire,” McNair said. “By the time she was laid down, the car was engulfed in an inferno and the tree was on fire.”

Looking back, McNair said if he and his wife had just walked to the car, or waited for the police to arrive, “she would have absolutely been burned alive.”

Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said police were dispatched to the 4800 block of Old Dominion Drive at about 10:51 p.m.

“Upon arrival, it was determined that the driver was traveling westbound on Old Dominion Drive when she allegedly lost control of the vehicle and collided with a fire hydrant, utility box, tree and utility pole,” Savage said.

She confirmed the role the two men played in saving the girl and said Arlington County Fire Department extinguished the vehicle.

“The driver was transported to an area hospital with injuries considered non-life-threatening,” Savage said.

After an investigation, the driver — who was under the age of 18 — was charged with driving after consuming alcohol.

On Saturday, McNair said he connected with the driver’s mother, who updated him on the two nights her daughter spent in the hospital, recovering.

“She was just in tears and very thankful for our efforts that we were able to save her daughter,” he said. “It was a very crazy event but we were thankful and happy to have gotten her out of there.”

Photos courtesy Patrick McNair and Michael Lindsay

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The Arlington County Police Department has quietly removed more of its radio channels from public monitoring.

Without a public announcement, ACPD started to encrypt two of its main radio channels for police communication earlier this month. A department spokesperson confirmed the move after inquiries from ARLnow, saying it’s part of a regional plan.

“As of March 1, 2021, Arlington County finalized adoption of the National Capital Region (NCR) Interoperable Encryption Plan,” said ACPD’s Ashley Savage. “In our primary radio zone, the adoption resulted in further encrypting the administrative channel, 1E, to protect the personal and confidential information of members of the public interacting with law enforcement as well [as] encrypting our last talk around channel, 1C, for tactical and operational security reasons.”

The “talk around” channel is used by officers at the scene of an incident to communicate with one another, and to relay updates to Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center. Monitoring it allowed hobbyists and news media to better understand what was happening during significant police incidents.

For the media, it also allowed more informed decisions about whether to send reporters and photographers to certain potential stories, and would sometimes help with formulating more targeted questions to ask of a police spokesperson or witnesses. Without it, reporters for broadcast stations and other outlets, including ARLnow, will be more dependent on official statements from police, which can lack key details, or accounts from witnesses, which can be hard to obtain and verify.

ACPD said that it will keep its main dispatch channel unencrypted, which will allow the public and media outlets to hear police dispatches and some initial communication between officers on scene and dispatchers. The department also highlighted the other official means by which it posts information, like a daily crime report on weekdays.

“The police department remains committed to transparency and our primary radio channel, 1A, where calls for service are dispatched, remains unencrypted,” said Savage. “The department also shares information related to criminal incidents through the Daily Crime Report, Online Crime Map, Open Data Portal and press releases. We also use Arlington Alert to provide emergency notifications in the event of a public safety threat to the community.”

ARLnow reported exclusively last summer — as a wave of protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd swept the country — that ACPD was considering encrypting more channels.

At the time, the local branch of the NAACP expressed concerns about police transparency. Since then, the department has implemented a body-worn camera system and participated in a county-run examination of police practices. The final police practices report made no mention of police radios or encryption.

File photo

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On Jan. 6, a group of ten or so men — at least one of whom was wearing a tactical earpiece — watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol from across the Potomac in Arlington.

Previously unpublished photos taken by ARLnow that day show the men loitering near the Marine Corps War Memorial, with the overrun Capitol in the background. Parked nearby are numerous vehicles, mostly pickup trucks and SUVs with out-of-state license plates.

One pickup truck, with large toolbox in the back, was left running.

The man with the earpiece appears to have been focused on some sort of communications device with an antenna. He was among a group standing outside, in the cold, wearing hooded sweatshirts and other inconspicuous cold weather gear. None were wearing the tactical vests and helmets that militia members who charged into the Capitol that day wore.

Still, the group was deemed suspicious enough that Arlington County police received at least one call from a passerby, concerned about what they were doing there. An officer drove by after the 4 p.m. call but didn’t see anything, according to police department spokesman Ashley Savage.

“At approximately 4:09 p.m. on January 6, the Emergency Communications Center received a report of 9-10 males acting suspiciously and looking around on the Iwo Jima War Memorial property,” Savage said in response to an inquiry from ARLnow. “The United States Park Police was notified to check the park area. ACPD patrol units checked Meade Street and Arlington property, nothing was located and the call was cleared.”

“I have no additional details to provide,” Savage added.

The photos above were taken by ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott around 3:30 p.m., just before Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he was sending the Virginia National Guard into D.C.

In recalling the moment, Westcott — a Navy veteran — said the gathering “had the feeling of a rally point.” He shot the scene from a distance with a 600mm lens, reluctant to get any closer due to potential safety concerns.

By nightfall, the men had dispersed, as ARLnow originally reported in an article about the curfew that night.

It’s unclear what the as-yet unidentified men were doing at the memorial that afternoon. Was their presence purely coincidental, or somehow connected to the pro-Trump rally and subsequent violence at the Capitol?

What is known is that somewhere outside of the District that day, according to federal prosecutors, a “quick reaction force” with a stockpile of weapons was allegedly ready to join the fight if ordered to do so by President Trump.

At a Friday court hearing for Jessica Watkins, a member of the Oath Keepers militia from Ohio who is accused of helping to plot the attack on the Capitol, prosecutors told a federal judge that “[it is] our understanding” that the quick reaction force did exist and was stationed somewhere near D.C.

A court document filed on Feb. 11, as cited by The Daily Beast, details the purpose of the quick reaction force, at least according to federal prosecutors.

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Broadcasting legend Larry King died on Saturday, at the age of 87. Though his status as a television celebrity is well established, less well known is where he rose to fame: here in Arlington.

King moved to Arlington from Miami shortly after his Larry King Show picked up national syndication from the Arlington-based Mutual Broadcasting System in 1978.

King’s show was produced in the Mutual Broadcasting studio at the top floor of the office building at 251 18th Street S., next to the Crystal City Metro station. Back then, the building’s street address was known as 1755 South Jefferson Davis Highway, the Crystal City Underground shopping plaza had recently opened, and the neighborhood was only beginning to emerge as a major commercial center.

“Mutual radio moved to Crystal City when no one was there and nothing was there — there were four buildings and the Crystal underground,” recalls Tammy Haddad, King’s radio producer in the early 1980s and later the founding Executive Producer of his CNN show.

It was from that studio that the late-night Larry King Show was broadcast across the country until it went off the air in 1994. Initially, it aired from midnight to 5:30 a.m., though the hours shifted over the years. The radio show featured an extended interview followed by live listener call-ins, and eventually aired on more than 500 radio stations nationwide.

The quirky program was a hit: King’s following grew so quickly — with millions of listeners staying up into the wee hours — that the open call-in portion of the show would crash the circuits of the entire 703 area code, at least according to King.

When Larry King Live launched in primetime on CNN in 1985, King would drive from the CNN studios in D.C. to Crystal City to host the radio show. Famous for his work ethic, King kept that grueling schedule up for years.

While working out of Crystal City, King lived in the Rosslyn area. For a couple of years he lived in The Virginian apartment building, before moving to the nearby Prospect House condo building, famous for its monumental view of D.C. and the Iwo Jima memorial.

King later briefly moved to McLean before decamping for Los Angeles, according to Patrick Piper, who produced King’s radio show after Haddad. (An Associated Press article from 1991 noted that King was arguing to have one of his divorces heard in Arlington “where he lives and works,” instead of Philadelphia where his estranged wife still maintained a residence.)

Stories from King’s radio days abound.

For one, King was cast as himself in the 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters.

“The people filming the movie Ghostbusters called and asked me to play myself in the movie,” he wrote in his autobiography. “They shot me, cigarette in hand, behind the mike.”

While the setting depicted in the film was definitely the Crystal City studio, Piper wasn’t sure whether it was actually shot in Arlington or on a soundstage. It did look like one of the secondary studios in the office, he said.

Getting to the studio late at night was not easy for the in-studio guests, Haddad remembers.

“The guests used to have to enter the Crystal underground entrance, which was unmarked, it never said Larry King radio show, it never said Mutual radio… and then they’d have to go to the building and [get] let up,” she said. “So you have to really want to be a guest on Larry King to get there.”

Many celebrities arrived via humble Arlington taxis

“We used to send the guests on Red Top Cabs,” Haddad said. “So we pick up Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, you know, all these guys.”

One regular on-air guest was then-Congressman Al Gore, who lived five minutes away in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood and would drive himself over to the studio late at night.

“Al Gore and Larry had a special relationship,” Haddad said.

Crystal City might not have been as centrally located as downtown D.C., but King wrote that it helped him stay much more plugged in to national news and media than staying in Miami.

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After nearly 60 years, The Inn of Rosslyn is permanently closed.

The Green family, which owned The Inn of Rosslyn and the Americana Hotel in Crystal City — the sale of which was previously reported — has sold both hotels to developer JBG Smith before the new year, according to one family member. The family also sold two apartment buildings: Fern Gardens and Williamsburg Apartments.

“The whole COVID-19 thing has basically bankrupted our businesses,” Katherine Green, whose father built the hotel in 1957, told ARLnow. “There was no other option. There was no end in sight.”

Business looked good, pre-coronavirus. The hotels were generating income, and the general manager of The Americana told Washington Business Journal that 2017 was its best year. But when the economy crashed, Green said she had no income from April 1 until mid-December. (The County records the sales on Dec. 18.) She said a small business loan covered payroll for a few months, but the siblings still emptied their bank accounts to keep the hotels open for a paltry 10% occupancy.

“We were hemorrhaging money,” said Green, who is 60.

A spokesperson for JBG Smith confirmed the purchase of the 38-key Rosslyn hotel and the two apartment buildings, but declined to comment further. The company has been on something of a buying spree in Arlington; an affiliated nonprofit just bought the Crystal House apartment complex with funding from Amazon, as part of a $2 billion commitment by the tech giant to support affordable housing in Arlington, Nashville and the Seattle area.

The Inn of Rosslyn is assessed at $5,070,900, and the two apartment buildings are together worth $8.7 million, according to county records.

Prior to these sales, JBG Smith’s Arlington properties were cumulatively valued this summer at nearly $4.5 billion, according to Arlington County.

“This is an end of an era,” Green said of her family’s business. “It’s hard for the employees. Some have worked for us for 20-odd years. Many were housed in family property and we don’t know if they’ll find jobs.”

The coronavirus was not Green’s only worry. Some of her siblings are too old to be involved, or have died recently, leaving only Green and her sister, Carole Newman, poised to keep the doors open.

The Green’s story is playing out statewide. COVID-19 has crippled the hotel industry statewide, with hotel revenues down 51% from 2019, and the percentage of rooms booked down 33 percentage points, Virginia Business reports.

Still, Green considers herself lucky.

“My father built his businesses in an area that is so valuable that we could sell,” she said.

William Green Sr. quit his electrical engineering job with General Electric to build the hotels.

“He didn’t want to work for a big corporation — he wanted to give his family financial independence, and give them freedom,” she said.

And her father, a child of the Great Depression, chose the D.C. area, she said.

“He knew that if the economy crashed again, D.C. would be more insulated than anywhere else,” she said. “Arlington is really the center of the universe in some ways.”

Today, Green lives on more than one hundred acres in eastern Oregon, and even mulled investing in hotels two years ago — but is glad she did not.

“What is going down is a travesty unlike anything in my lifetime,” she said.

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