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Inside the Arlington County Detention Facility (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Arlington County Board and the Human Rights Commission are at odds over whether commissioners had the right to request an investigation into possible human and civil rights violations at the county jail.

Earlier this month, the commission sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, voicing concerns over reports that inmates at the jail lack adequate healthcare, a situation they argue could put them “at risk of death and severe harm.” This follows up on letters to the County Sheriff’s Office and the DOJ from the Arlington branch of the NAACP and its national organization, asking for an investigation after hearing from former and current inmates.

In response, County Board Chair Libby Garvey told the DOJ in a letter last week that the commission’s request “does not represent the position or opinion” of the Board, though she did not elaborate on the Board’s position on either the commission sending the letter or the conditions within the jail.

For County Board member Matt De Ferranti, there are at least grounds for procedural concerns. Before the commission approved the letter, he told them via email that state law requires County Board approval before “seeking assistance with the prevention or relief from discriminatory practices from external enforcement authorities.”

The commission argues it was not requesting the enforcement of a specific violation; rather, it wants the agency to look at the general policies and practices of the jail, Arlington Human Rights Commission Chair Bill Rice told ARLnow.

“We’ve been hearing reports of widespread discrimination in this area and asking for like an investigation into that, but that second part doesn’t necessarily result in like some type of enforcement action — it usually results in some type of report,” Rice said.

The Board’s response, meanwhile, has left Rice and other commissioners confused about where the Board officially stands, as no members have openly objected to the substance of the letter.

“The County Board knows about it already, or it should know about it already,” Rice said. “It’s been in the news, people have raised it with the County Board members before, and the NAACP has raised the issue with numerous people before. Sending the letter to the County Board would just be telling them something they already were aware of.”

Last month, ARLnow reported the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is under pressure from personnel, inmates and the NAACP to improve conditions at the county jail amid claims of inadequate healthcare and chronic staffing shortages leading to excessive confinement and mismanagement.

Deputies have highlighted the safety risks associated with staffing shortages, and several former inmates, including John Parker and Moika Nduku, have since come forward to support these claims.

“I was there for 20 months… We came out a handful of times, literally seven or eight times, that we came out for food, to perhaps talk to our lawyers, over months and months at a time,” Nduku said during a special Human Rights Commission meeting held last month. “We’ve experienced something that’s way past inhumane, denying our basic rights.”

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The Ballston apartment building that was the scene of the unsolved Scott Ratigan murder (via Google Maps)

A grim anniversary quietly passed last month: four years since the still-unsolved murder of Scott Ratigan.

The 24-year-old was found dead with “trauma to the upper body” in his Ballston apartment in January 2020. The 911 caller reported a strong smell of bleach in the apartment, according to scanner traffic at the time.

A year later, police released video and images of a “person of interest” in the case. The person had their face covered as they walked down Ballston sidewalks, a few weeks before the Covid pandemic prompted widespread use of masks.

Person of interest in Ballston murder case (courtesy of ACPD)

Online communities, including on Reddit, have continued to follow and discuss the case. One such community recently asked followers to “demand an update” in the case, resulting in numerous emails to ARLnow.

Arlington County police, however, have continued to keep details — beyond those already released — close to the vest.

“We want to [assure] the public that the investigation into identifying and holding responsible the suspect(s) responsible for Scott Ratigan’s homicide remains a top priority,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow last week, when pressed on any substantive updates in the investigation.

“To ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation, there are no additional details to provide at this time,” Savage continued. “Detectives continue to follow up on investigative leads and will continue to evaluate the case for any possible future updates.”

Savage also noted that the department is still seeking more tips from the public.

The investigation into the homicide of Scott Ratigan remains open and active. Detectives continue to follow up on every investigative lead and remind the public that any information, regardless of how small it may seem, could be the tip that leads to justice on behalf of Scott and the Ratigan family. The Ratigan family has offered a reward of $50,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the suspect(s) responsible for Scott Ratigan’s homicide on January 17, 2020. Police continue to ask anyone with information related to this incident to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s tip line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected]. Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

Online sleuths have gone so far as to produce detailed recaps, from a 36-minute YouTube video to a 38-minute episode of a true crime podcast, but a lack of publicly released details has led to forums that abound with rumor, speculation and frustration — but little new analysis that meaningfully advances the case.

In encouraging people to contact ARLnow and the Washington Post, forum users emphasized the need to keep the story “top-of-mind” with the public, so it does not fall into “cold case” status.

“Please do an update on the Scott Ratigan murder investigation,” one of the people who emailed ARLnow wrote. “Keeping that story in the press is important.”

Photo via Google Maps

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George Porcha (courtesy ACPD)

Arlington police have charged a former Washington-Liberty High School basketball coach with sexual offenses and are seeking possible additional victims.

George Porcha, 53, of Winterville, North Carolina, is charged with carnal knowledge of a minor and taking indecent liberties with children, per an Arlington County Police Department press release sent out this evening (Tuesday).

ACPD started its investigation in October 2022 after receiving information about possible offenses Porcha committed, involving minors, between 2000 and 2003, when he coached girls basketball coach at Washington-Liberty, then named Washington-Lee.

As a result of the investigation, warrants were issued this month for offenses involving two female victims who were juveniles and students at W-L at the time of the incidents, per the press release, which noted additional information is restricted following Virginia code.

During his tenure at W-L, he was the 2001 National District Coach of the Year, according to InsideNova. Porcha went on to be the head girls basketball coach at T.C. Williams High School, now Alexandria City High School, from 2004-07.

About a decade later, he coached the boys basketball team at Woodbridge High School from 2014-16 before leaving for Ole Miss, InsideNova reported at the time.

Porcha has also made the rounds coaching at colleges and universities, including Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, Ole Miss and Boston College. He was let go from Virginia Tech in the fall of 2022, per the Roanoke Times.

This remains an active criminal investigation, ACPD says. Anyone who has additional information related to this investigation or has had past inappropriate encounters with this suspect is asked to contact Detective P. Pena at 703-228-4183 or [email protected]. Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

This reporting was supported by the ARLnow Press Club. Join today to support in-depth local journalism — and get an exclusive morning preview of each day’s planned coverage.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is facing mounting pressure from personnel, inmates and the NAACP to address worsening conditions at the county jail.

Current and former deputies, along with a former inmate, claim that chronic staffing shortages inside the jail have led to inmates being confined to their cells for up to 21 hours daily, deputies not following proper protocols, the mismanagement of medication dosages and inmates not being allowed to take showers.

A jail-based staff-led anonymous survey obtained by ARLnow chalks up the retention challenges to issues with leadership, salary, and work conditions, particularly mandatory overtime.

Sources caution that without intervention, the ongoing staff shortages at the jail pose a significant safety risk to deputies and inmates.

Nine deaths in eight years

On Oct. 2, 2020, Arlington County Jail inmate Darryl Becton, 46, was found unconscious in his cell at 4:17 p.m.

Twenty-eight minutes later, medics pronounced him dead at the scene. His death, later attributed to hypertensive cardiovascular disease, complicated by opiate withdrawal, generated significant county and community attention.

In the wake of Becton’s death, his family filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against former Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, Corizon Correctional Health — the jail’s now-former medical provider — and four medical staff members, citing negligence in properly monitoring his high blood pressure and withdrawal symptoms.

A Corizon nurse was charged in connection with Becton’s death but was later found not guilty.

In response, the jail hired a new medical provider, updated its safety protocols and announced it would equip some inmates with biometric wrist monitors tracking their vital signs. Current Sheriff Jose Quiroz piloted these wrist monitors this fall, distributing them to inmates in the jail’s medical unit.

“We’re going to pilot it with the folks in our infirmary who are, in my eyes, the most critical, the most vulnerable, whether it’s pre-existing medical conditions or anyone going through withdrawals or detox,” Quiroz told ARLnow during an interview in September 2023. “And so, I’m definitely committed to that.”

Like Becton, Jermaine Culbreath, a former Arlington County Detention Facility inmate, also suffers from high blood pressure. Although prescribed blood pressure medication during his incarceration, he told ARLnow he did not receive a wrist monitor.

Culbreath also alleges that on multiple occasions, the jail’s medical staff either failed to deliver his medication promptly in the morning or did not deliver it at all.

“If they did give it to me, they’d give me the medicine in the afternoon,” he told ARLnow. “Like, I’m supposed to take it in the morning because if I try to take this medicine after a certain hour, I can overdose because this is like me taking it twice.”

Over the last eight years, nine inmates — many of whom previously experienced homelessness — have died while in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office. The two most recent incidents this year involved 73-year-old Abonesh Woldegeorges and 55-year-old David Gerhard, both of whom were found unresponsive in their cells.

Gerhard died after going into cardiac arrest, and Woldergeorges died after falling out of her bunk and hitting her head, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Investigations into both cases are currently ongoing.

How staff shortages figure into current conditions

While it’s difficult to say they are directly related, sources, including Culbreath and retired Arlington County sheriff’s deputy Wanda Younger, trace the recent deaths and lapses to staffing shortages within ACSO and the impact they have on jail operations.

“There have been nine deaths in eight years,” Younger told ARLnow. “This is showing signs of the exacerbation that’s happening with the lack of staff, the daily shortages and these daily lockdowns.”

Situated directly opposite the Arlington County Justice Center on N. Courthouse Road, the 11-story jail, on average, houses about 364 inmates who are managed by a team of approximately 270 sworn deputies and civilian staff.

At any given time, the jail is supervised by up to 35 personnel — including 30 deputies, four sergeants, and one lieutenant — who work 12 to 12.5-hour shifts, Maj. Jonathan Burgess told ARLnow during a tour of the detention facility in September 2023.

Theoretically, 35 deputies per shift would be ample, but daily staffing levels are reportedly lower than that, says Younger, referencing conversations with those currently working inside.

“I’ve been told that the Sheriff’s Office is short-staffed almost on a daily basis,” she said.

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Police at Washington-Liberty High School in Sept. 2022 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A “mob” of seven boys is facing serious charges after allegedly attacking another teen at Washington-Liberty High School.

The fight happened around 3:15 p.m. — five minutes after school dismissal — on Tuesday but police were not called until an hour later. A tipster tells ARLnow that it took place inside the school.

The victim went to a hospital on his own, with a non-life-threatening laceration, according to Arlington County police. ACPD is seeking “Malicious Wounding by Mob” charges against the attackers.

Washington-Liberty’s principal sent the following email to families about the incident this afternoon.

Dear W-L Community,

During dismissal yesterday at approximately 3:15 p.m., several W-L students were involved in a significant verbal and physical altercation with another student. Our staff responded to break up the group of students and contacted law enforcement.  We have been in communication with the families of the students involved and have applied appropriate disciplinary consequences.

The initial police report is provided below. Washington-Liberty is collaborating with the ACPD on its investigation and continues to talk with other students not directly involved who may have additional information.

MALICIOUS WOUNDING BY MOB (late), 2024-01090125, 1300 block of N. Stafford Street. At approximately 4:19 p.m. on January 9, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined at approximately 3:15 p.m., a verbal dispute occurred between a group of juveniles, during which the juvenile male victim was allegedly assaulted by a group of approximately seven juvenile male suspects. The victim sustained a laceration and self-reported to an area hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Petitions are pending for the juvenile suspects for Malicious Wounding by Mob.  

We take these incidents very seriously and will continue to take all necessary steps to keep students and staff safe. These actions do not reflect our core values and beliefs at Washington-Liberty and under no circumstances do we condone this type of behavior. Please talk to your student about the consequences of their actions if they get involved in an altercation like this.

I apologize for the delay in updating the broader W-L community regarding this incident, as my immediate focus was on communicating with the students and families directly involved and cooperating with the ACPD on its investigation.

If you have any questions or further information about this incident, please contact me 703-228-6202.

ARLnow asked police about a motive for the attack and whether it was captured on video.

“A verbal dispute preceded the assault and the circumstances of the incident remain under investigation,” said ACPD spokeswoman Alli Shorb. “During the course of the preliminary investigation, evidence was recovered. To ensure the integrity of the investigation and prosecution, there are no additional details to provide at this time.”

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Washington-Liberty High School in the snow (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Last month, a peculiar cybersecurity incident derailed class at Washington-Liberty and prompted a police investigation that is ongoing.

Around 10:10 a.m. on Nov. 30, police were dispatched to the school for “the late report of suspicious circumstances,” says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

“The preliminary investigation indicates that between 10:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on November 29, a student inside Washington Liberty High School utilized an electronic device that caused nearby iPhones to turn off,” she said.

“Police identified the involved student and the manner of intrusion that impacted the iPhones,” she continued. “Based on the preliminary investigation, there is no ongoing threat to the community related to this incident.”

Although ACPD identified the student involved, no charges have been sought at this time because police are still investigating the incident and any impacts to affected devices, says Savage.

Later that week, on Dec. 1, Arlington Public Schools shared a message from ACPD to the W-L community, seeking to find more potentially impacted phones. The message, shared with ARLnow, advised recipients of the incident and asking anyone whose cell phone turned off while at the school on Nov. 29 to file an online police report or contact the tip line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected].

“Victims have been identified and efforts to identify potential additional victims are ongoing,” Savage said.

ACPD did not provide additional details, such as what kind of device might have been used, citing the need to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation. A cybersecurity expert contacted by ARLnow declined to speculate on how a student might have turned off nearby iPhones.

The police department did note that it is not currently investigating any similar incidents. ACPD also shared some general cybersecurity tips.

“Police recommend community members always ensure their electronic devices are up to date with the latest software provided by their manufacturer and/or service provider,” Savage said. “Additional cybersecurity best practices include using strong passwords, thinking before you click on suspicious links, and using multi-factor authentication.”

The unusual incident comes as Arlington Public Schools have seen multiple lockdowns, some due to gun-related threats, particularly this year, while others have been chalked up to “swatting,” or hoax calls to 911 about school threats intended to elicit a large police response.

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Three people were seriously hurt in a fight that resulted in multiple stabbings Friday night.

The stabbings happened around 6 p.m. in a residential building on the 5100 block of Columbia Pike, in the Arlington Mill neighborhood, according to Arlington County police. Five people, who all knew each other, were fighting in a stairwell when three were stabbed, ACPD said.

The victims — two men and a teen boy — were rushed to local trauma centers and are all expected to survive, after being found wounded in three separate locations. One of the men was initially reported to be in critical condition.

The stabbings prompted a large police response at multiple scenes and some partial road closures. Police have not announced any arrests and said today that they’re still investigating.

More, below, from an ACPD press release.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating a stabbing that occurred in the Arlington Mill neighborhood on the evening of December 15, 2023.

At approximately 6:08 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a stabbing in the 5100 block of Columbia Pike. Upon arrival, officers located an adult male subject suffering from a laceration and immediately began rendering aid. Responding officers canvassed the area and located an additional adult male subject in the 1000 block of S. Frederick Street and a juvenile male subject in the 5000 block of 8th Road S. also suffering from lacerations and rendered aid. Medics responded and all three patients were transported to area hospitals with serious injuries. At this time, all three patients are in stable condition and their injuries are considered non-life threatening.

The preliminary investigation indicates a physical altercation between approximately five subjects, who are known to each other, occurred in a stairwell inside a residential building in the 5100 block of Columbia Pike, during which the three individuals sustained their injuries. During the course of the investigation, a knife was recovered.

This remains an active criminal investigation. Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected]. Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). For additional community resources and contact information, visit our website.

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A woman was shot this afternoon in the Green Valley neighborhood.

The shooting happened around 1 p.m., reportedly near the intersection of S. Kemper Road and S. Oxford Street. Photos taken afterward show a crime scene along nearby S. Four Mile Run Drive.

Initial reports suggest that the shots were fired from a silver Honda SUV with Virginia tags and four people inside. The victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Arlington County police said, and was taken via ambulance to a local hospital.

The U.S. Park Police helicopter assisted with a search for the suspects but so far there’s no word of any arrests.

Update on 12/10/23 — Arlington County police issued the following press release about the shooting.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating a shooting in the Green Valley neighborhood which occurred on the afternoon of December 9, 2023.

At approximately 1:03 p.m., police were dispatched to the report of a shooting at S. Kemper Road and S. Oxford Street. The preliminary investigation indicates the female victim was a passenger in a vehicle traveling on S. Oxford Street when four suspects approached on foot and discharged firearms, striking the victim and the vehicle. Following the shooting, the driver of the victim vehicle continued to the 4000 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive where officers located them and began rendering aid to the victim. The victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to an area hospital for treatment.

The suspects subsequently fled the area in a silver SUV. The suspects are described as four Black males with skinny builds wearing dark clothing and facial coverings.

This remains an active criminal investigation. Anyone with information or home surveillance that may assist with the investigation is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected]. Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). For additional community resources and contact information, visit our website.

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(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) The man whose house exploded during a standoff with police is dead.

James Yoo, 56, is presumed dead as a result of the explosion of the duplex at 844 N. Burlington Street, in the Bluemont neighborhood, Arlington County police confirmed during a news conference this afternoon.

Human remains were located at the scene, said Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn, and the medical examiner is working to identify the remains. There are no ongoing threats to the community and no outstanding suspects, Penn added.

The explosion happened around 8:25 p.m. Monday and was heard — and felt — from miles around. It followed a standoff that started around 4:45 p.m. as Yoo fired some 30-40 flares from his window, sending them over neighboring Fields Park and in the direction of Key Elementary School.

The force of the explosion shattered home and car windows near the blast site and injured several Arlington police officers. The officers suffered only minor injuries, police previously said.

As many as a dozen surrounding homes were damaged and ten households temporarily displaced by the explosion, ACPD said today. Nearby residents, including those in the duplex unit adjoining Yoo, were evacuated by firefighters about an hour and a half prior to the explosion, authorities said. Those displaced are being provided with temporary housing and necessities, Penn said.

Gas to the house was turned off at the meter prior to the explosion, according to ACFD Assistant Fire Chief Jason Jenkins.

“Their efforts last evening saved lives, period,” Jenkins said. “They minimized damage to property, and I thank them for their efforts.”

Before the explosion, ACPD used a SWAT vehicle to breach the front door and establish communication with Yoo, ordering him to come out. As officers “tried to engage with the suspect,” they “experienced what is believed to be multiple gunshots from a firearm coming from within the dwelling,” Penn said.

Arlington police then “began to deploy non-flammable, less-lethal chemical munitions” in several parts of the home they thought Yoo might be hiding, in an attempt to get him to surrender. Shortly thereafter, the house erupted in a giant fireball that sent debris soaring through the air. Some debris was found several streets away, authorities said.

Firefighters battled the resulting fire for hours, until the early morning hours, with ACFD using a water stream from a ladder truck to douse the potentially gas-fed flames. The fire is now out, authorities said.

Neighbors told ARLnow that Yoo had previously pulled a knife on people looking at the house while it was listed for sale for a few months in 2021. Three days before Monday’s incident he had posted a paranoid rant on Linkedin against his neighbors in the duplex, at the end of quiet street that dead-ends at the Bluemont Junction Trail, near Arlington County Fire Station No. 2.

Penn said that police are now aware of Yoo’s “concerning” social media posts, but noted that he was otherwise largely off the police department’s radar before last night.

“The Arlington County Police Department does not have any prior documented interactions with the suspect at this address other than two calls for service for loud noise,” Penn said.

At Fire Station No. 2 today, numerous personnel from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could be seen, helping the Arlington County police and fire departments investigate what caused the explosion. Penn said the ATF and the FBI are both assisting with the investigation, alongside the Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team and the Arlington County Fire Marshal’s Office.

David Sundberg, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said the bureau received communication from Yoo in the past about “alleged frauds” against him.

The FBI and ATF both sent bomb technicians and other investigators to the scene and are working to determine the cause of the explosion, spokespeople said. No timeline was given for when the investigation will conclude, other than it is expected to “extensive and time consuming.”

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File photo

A man broke into a woman’s apartment in Rosslyn early this morning and raped her, Arlington County police say.

The incident happened around midnight on the 1500 block of Clarendon Blvd.

More, below, from an ACPD press release.

The Arlington County Police Department is investigating a rape which occurred in the Radnor/Ft. Myer Heights neighborhood during the early morning hours of October 29.

At approximately 12:19 a.m., police were dispatched to the 1500 block of Clarendon Boulevard for the report of a rape. The preliminary investigation indicates the unknown male suspect gained entry to the victim’s residence, entered her bedroom and threatened her. The suspect then raped the victim before fleeing the residence on foot.

The suspect is described as a tall, Black male with a skinny build and shorter, curly hair.

This remains an active criminal investigation and anyone with information that may assist the investigation is asked to contact Detective McGuire at 703-228-4173 or [email protected]. Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). For additional community resources and contact information, visit our website.

This incident follows an apartment break-in and sexual assault in the Virginia Square neighborhood in April.

Matthew Coble (photo courtesy ACPD)

A 21-year-old Reston man is facing charges after a sex crimes investigation involving victims under the age of 18.

The charges stem from “criminal incidents that occurred in 2020,” Arlington County police said. ACPD says they’re now seeking other potential victims of the suspect, identified as Matthew Coble.

Coble was already on the radar of law enforcement. In July, an Arlington jury found Coble guilty of Aggravated Sexual Battery of a mentally incapacitated or physically helpless individual in a public park. His sentencing in that case is currently set for Dec. 15.

More on the latest charges and the search for additional victims, below, from an ACPD press release.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Special Victims Unit is investigating a suspect charged with sex offenses against a teenage juvenile and is seeking possible additional victims.

On September 18, police received information regarding criminal incidents that occurred in 2020 and immediately initiated a comprehensive investigation. As a result, Matthew Coble, 21, of Reston, VA was charged on October 13 with Indecent Liberties with a Child (x3) and Production of Child Pornography. He is being held in the Arlington County Detention Facility without bond. Additional information regarding the investigation is restricted from release in accordance with Virginia Code § 16.1-301 and Virginia Code § 19.2-11.2.

Based on the investigation, detectives believe there may be additional victims. Anyone with past inappropriate encounters with this suspect or who has additional information related to this investigation is asked to contact Detective P. Pena at 703-228-4183 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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