Arlington prosecutors are pressing charges against a Virginia State Police sergeant accused of accidentally firing a gun and not reporting the incident.
Steven Mittendorff is set to go on trial for the charges in the Arlington Circuit Court on October 10, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos told ARLnow today (Monday.)
“On July 30, 2019, the Virginia State Police charged Steven R. Mittendorff, 39, of Prince William County with one misdemeanor count of reckless handling of a firearm and one misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice,” said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
“The charges stem from an unreported, accidental discharge of a firearm inside a Virginia State Police area office in June 2019,” she added. “No one was injured in the incident.”
VSP maintains an office at 1426-A Columbia Pike, near I-395.
The alleged incident occurred on June 10, 2019, per court records. Last week, a local grand jury decided that the prosecution’s evidence against Mittendorff was strong enough to merit a trial.
Mittendorff was previously in the news after calling for Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers to resign, following the death of his wife. Nicole Mittendorf, took her own life after being the victim of alleged cyberbullying by her Fairfax firefighter colleagues, who reportedly posted sexually explicit comments about in her online web forums.
Mittendorff is a 1st Sergeant in charge of Virginia State Police Area 45, which includes Arlington, and was hired in 2002.
“In accordance with Department policy, he has been placed on leave without pay pending the outcome of the court process,” said Geller.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos declined further comment on the case.
The facility will be built on the grounds of Dulles International Airport as a joint venture with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Arlington County will contribute $7 million to the project. MWAA will contribute about $5 million and the land, valued at $6 million.
The new facility is necessary, county officials said, because the Dulles-area range where Arlington officers currently train does not have running water and permanent restrooms. It also has no covered firing points and minimal classroom space.
Other federal and local law enforcement ranges were considered but rejected. An Alexandria shooting range, historically used by Arlington officers, is now only available on an “emergency” basis, and a Loudoun County range is “antiquated,” according to a staff report. The yearly expense of using private ranges, meanwhile, was deemed to be too high.
Building the range in Arlington was considered but rejected due to the fact that it would have to be indoors and would not provide a full range of training options.
“The lack of a permanent home for Arlington’s public safety personnel has hampered training, and increased costs for the County,” county staff reported. “This Agreement guarantees that Arlington will have a secure and up-to-date facility for 25 years in order to meet training needs for Arlington County Police and Arlington County Sheriff uniformed personnel for firearms proficiency training, qualification, and tactical training needs.”
“The training facility will include two 25-lane, 50-yard open firing ranges, along with a 300-yard rifle deck,” the county said in a press release. “The joint facility also will offer a 7,200 square foot modular training building, several classrooms and a secure storage area.”
Plans for the facility were reported by ARLnow.com in April. The plans faced criticism from repeat Green Party candidate for local office Audrey Clement, who questioned the $7 million cost.
“The NRA has a state-of-the-art shooting range just off the I-66, Route 50 exit that offers training for law enforcement personnel,” Clement said. “If this range works for the NRA, and they are highly successful, why won’t it work for Arlington police?”
County officials called a partnership with the NRA “impractical” due to various factors. The joint venture with MWAA, officials said, will allow Arlington and Airports Authority officers to get the firearms training they need for modern law enforcement.
“We are fortunate to have this chance to partner with MWAA in building this much-needed training facility for our law enforcement departments,” said County Board Chair Walter Tejada, in a statement. “This facility will help ensure that our police and sheriff’s deputies, for years to come, will get the training they need to continue to protect and serve our community.”
The new Dulles range is expected to take about a year to build.
Proposals are in the works for constructing a permanent firearms training facility for the Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office. The preferred plan involves upgrading and expanding a facility on the Dulles International Airport property, which Arlington police currently shared with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) police.
Arlington does not have its own facility for such training, and had been sharing Alexandria’s until 2008. At that time, it was determined that Alexandria’s use had grown to such a point that it could no longer accommodate the more than 350 ACPD members and more than 100 Sheriff’s Office members as well. Arlington has been using the MWAA police shooting range since then.
The Dulles facility is said to need upgrades and an expansion. Right now, it houses a 15 point outdoor range, but under the new plan would expand to include two 25 point firing ranges and a 300 yard rifle deck. The facility currently has no shelter from weather, no running water or fixed restrooms and no classroom space.
An alternative to upgrading the Dulles range would be to find enough land on which to build a training facility within the Arlington County limits. That, however, does not appear to be a viable option, according to Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz.
“We don’t have the land to do it. Having a firing range within the confines of the county would present some difficulties,” said Schwartz. “Try to find 21 acres in Arlington and just think of the cost.”
Arlington County lists the project in its 2013-2022 Capital Improvement Plan. The proposed price tag of $12 million, $7 million of which would be provided by Arlington County, may seem daunting to some, such as former Arlington County Board candidate Audrey Clement. She spoke at the County Board Public Budget Hearing last Tuesday (March 26), likening the firing range to other county funded projects she considers wasteful, such as Artisphere, the aquatics center at Long Bridge Park and the Columbia Pike streetcar.
“The project’s justification says that the firing range is needed because the one currently in use at Dulles lacks running water, fixed restroom facilities and covered firing points,” she said. “Does providing those facilities actually cost seven million plus dollars? If so, the NRA has a state-of-the-art shooting range just off the I-66, Route 50 exit that offers training for law enforcement personnel. If this range works for the NRA, and they are highly successful, why won’t it work for Arlington police?”
Partnering with the NRA is not feasible, according to Schwartz.
“That comment, I could spend an hour telling you why her suggestion was impractical,” Schwartz said. “I really think the perception would be that this is a ‘nice to have thing.’ I don’t think the county manager or the police chief or sheriffs think this is a ‘nice to have thing.’ This is a very basic part of their training and skills that they need to have.”
ACPD Deputy Chief Jay Farr added that the current cost is a good deal when taking into consideration that MWAA is footing $5 million of the total bill, in addition to supplying the land, which Schwartz estimates to be worth at least $5 million.