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Morning Notes

Mistrial Declared in Sexual Abuse Case Against Former Thoreau MS Teacher — A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury acquitted Matthew Snell on one count of inappropriate sexual relations with a teenager after 13 hours of deliberation. The jury failed to reach a verdict on two other charges, likely prompting a retrial. [The Washington Post]

Tysons Auto Investment Company Sold — Investment firm Ares Management Corp. closed a $3.8 billion deal yesterday (Thursday) to acquire Capital Automotive Real Estate Services Inc., which gives financing to automobile dealers for buying new locations and upgrading facilities. Based at 8484 Westpark Drive, the company has recently been selling land that it owns for the Dominion Square West development. [Washington Business Journal]

Tysons Steakhouse Plans Second Fairfax County Location — The Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão plans to open a new location in Reston Town Center this spring. The company’s restaurant outside of Tysons Galleria is the only one it currently has in Northern Virginia. [Reston Now]

Funding Recommended for Local Transportation Projects — The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board approved a $7.2 million plan on Wednesday (Feb. 16) to support bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. The recommendations include the Vienna Metro station bicycle improvements and Shrevewood Elementary School Safe Routes to Schools project requested by Fairfax County. [WTOP]

Vienna Nepali Restaurant Gets Thumbs Up — “You will not find a dish quite like Royal Nepal Bistro’s fulbari naan in its homeland. Yes, co-owner Sunil Chaudhary says that the breads in parts of southern Nepal are sweet, but this creation exists only in Vienna.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

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Morning Notes

County Reduces COVID-19 Isolation Time — Following new CDC recommendations, the Fairfax County Health Department has cut the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, if the individual has no symptoms. People exposed to someone who tests positive no longer have to quarantine if they’re vaccinated. [FCHD]

Former FCPD Officer Convicted for Sexual Misconduct — “A former Fairfax County police officer has been convicted of sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old police cadet. John Grimes faced three charges of indecent liberties with a minor. He was found guilty of all counts on Monday.” [NBC4]

Vienna’s Tom Yum Thai Closes — “The restaurant informed customers in a Facebook post that it had closed on Sunday, Dec. 26. It had been open for seven years at 226 Maple Avenue W in Vienna. The management did not share a reason for the closure in the post.” [Patch]

County Waste Facilities to Change Hours — “The new year will usher in extended operating hours for residents to drop off their trash, recyclables, and various specialty wastes (e.g., used oil, old batteries, scrap metal) at the I-66 Transfer Station and the I-95 Landfill Complex. The new hours taking effect on January 1, 2022, are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Weekend hours, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., will remain unchanged at both facilities.” [DPWES]

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(Updated Dec. 29) A case involving a 34-year-old McLean man who allegedly had digital child pornography is scheduled to go to trial in June 2022.

Following an investigation by the national Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, Herndon police arrested Stefan J. Koza over a year ago near Wolf Trap, according to a December 2020 crime report. The town is part of the task force, and a Herndon detective led the investigation.

The case went through the Fairfax County General District Court before moving to the county’s Circuit Court, where a grand jury  indictment advanced eight charges of possession of child pornography — a felony.

When authorities conducted a search warrant at a family home last year, officers tried to get a resident to open the door, and Koza called 911, initially saying people were banging on the door, according to a court document.

“After being instructed to open the front door for police, Koza removed internal components of his desktop tower computer, ran out of the basement exit, ran through some yards, ran to the edge of a wooded lot…where he threw computer component(s),” authorities said.

He reportedly ran back toward the residence, and when authorities questioned him, he said he “panicked when he realized that police were at the door” and removed the components to “hide any trace of his child pornography downloads on the BitTorrent network,” according to a court document.

Koza told authorities he was sorry and admitted to having been arrested in Japan after hiding a GoPro camera in a dressing or changing room at an elementary school as part of an exchange program.

According to a LinkedIn page bearing Koza’s information, he served as an assistant language teacher for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme from August 2009 to July 2014.

A Japanese news outlet reported in July 2014 that Koza, who was working at the school, admitted it was his camera but said he lost it about a month before the incident.

Koza told authorities in the U.S. that he was arrested, given three years probation, removed from Japan, and ordered back to the U.S., according to a court document.

Tysons Reporter contacted Koza’s attorney for comment but didn’t receive a response by press time.

Comic and anime websites have described Koza as a manga translator.

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Morning Notes

Joint Statement Released on Settlement of FCPS Disability Lawsuit — As first reported by The Washington Post in late November, Fairfax County Public Schools has settled a lawsuit over its use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities. The students and disability advocacy organizations that filed the case say they hope “this resolution will ensure that no other student will ever have to experience such trauma.” [FCPS]

Thousands Donate Child Face Masks to County — “Thank you to the community for coming together to donate child face masks! We have collected 12,065 masks! Thank you to @FairfaxCountyPD for hosting the donations bin and @VolunteerFFX for all your help putting together donations!” [Ready Fairfax/Twitter]

Metro to Testify on Safety Issues in Congress — Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th) says he will call on Metro’s top leaders to testify at a congressional hearing about the safety issues spotlighted by October’s train derailment, which have kept more than half the transit agency’s fleet out of commission for almost two months now. Connolly, who represents Fairfax County, calls Metro’s failure to report the issues when they were discovered years ago “a mortal sin.” [NBC4]

Fairfax Stands Alone With Court Records Paywall — “While all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions provide free, remote public access to basic docket information for individual criminal and civil cases in circuit court, Fairfax County’s CPAN system costs $150 per quarter, or $600 per year.” [WTOP]

I-495 Lane Closures in Tysons Continue — “Lane closures and ramp closures on I-495 North and I-66 East will be implemented during the overnight hours again this week, December 13-17, as bridge beam installation for a new flyover ramp from I-495 North to I-66 West continues at the I-66/I-495 Interchange as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.” [VDOT]

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Morning Notes

(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Rape Case Moves to Supreme Court — “A Virginia man who’s serving 65 years in prison for brutally raping two lifeguards in Alexandria and Fairfax County will ask Virginia’s Supreme Court to overturn his convictions, based on the way he was caught. On Tuesday, attorneys for Jesse Bjerke will ask the commonwealth’s highest court to throw out his 2020 conviction and sentence for attacking lifeguards at deserted pools in Fairfax in 2014 and Alexandria in 2016.” [WTOP]

Restaurants Confirmed for Founders Row — Four tenants, all restaurants, have signed leases for a total of 10,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space at Falls Church’s Founders Row, developers told the city council’s economic development committee yesterday. The restaurants offer seafood, upscale Asian cuisine, healthy Asian street food location, and ‘elegant modern American cuisine.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

Mosaic District Apparel Company Makes Acquisition — “Custom Ink LLC is finally coming up for air after a very tough 2020…First, the Fairfax custom printing and retail startup is fresh off an acquisition of New York-based corporate gifting company Swag.com, and revenue is around $500 million a year, [CEO Marc] Katz said, up both from 2020 and from 2019, though he declined to share more specifics.” [Washington Business Journal]

Commercial Burglaries Reported — Three commercial burglaries occurred in the Mosaic McLean District last Wednesday and Thursday (Dec. 8-9). The targeted businesses were a Shell gas station and Sun Cleaners on Chain Bridge Road as well as Tysons Florist, where someone painted the walls with graffiti in addition to taking property. [FCPD]

Vienna Chiropractor Prepares for Retirement — “‘I fell in love 34 years ago and as I drove down Maple Avenue on a Sunday morning and found my office space, and I said a little prayer,’ Avedisian said. ‘And the next morning I was signing a lease. I felt very connected, it felt home and felt like this is where I belong.'” [Patch]

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The former Sheraton Hotel in Tysons (via Google Maps)

Let speculation about the future of the Sheraton Tysons Hotel begin, as the conclusion of a tax dispute that ended up in court could allow the property to move forward.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed to accept a settlement agreement following a closed-door meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 7) to resolve lawsuits filed by the owner of the 449-room hotel (8661 Leesburg Pike), which permanently closed in April 2020.

Constructed in the mid-1980s, the Sheraton was one of a handful of union-run hotels in the Commonwealth, which contributed to higher operating costs, including for employee benefits.

Sheraton property owner JBG Smith, a Maryland-based real estate development and investment firm, filed lawsuits against Fairfax County in 2019 and 2020, contesting years-old property tax assessments.

The company’s lawyers argued that the county’s mass appraisal process failed to take the site’s higher operating costs into account. The suits had been headed for trials in 2022.

The county declined to comment on whether it has changed any appraisal policies or procedures due to the error. Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s office deferred questions to a county attorney, who cited a tax law, arguing settlement details couldn’t be released due to confidentiality.

The county also said the matter “remains in litigation.” The county suggested yesterday (Thursday) that the property’s assessments in 2016 and 2017 would be modified.

A county property database has stated the owner’s annual real estate taxes were around $252,092 for 2021.

Court records indicate that JBG Smith, identified as JBG Tysons Hotel LLC, sought compensation between $100,000 and $500,000 for each case.

Crescent Hotels & Resorts, which managed the Sheraton, issued a layoff notice for 171 workers, effective April 3, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the U.S. hospitality industry. Later that year, the hotel launched a liquidation sale of furniture and other items.

John Boardman, a representative for Unite Here Local 25, a union for D.C. area hospitality workers, said employees received closing pay as part of their now-expired collective bargaining agreement around six months ago.

“Our contract also provides that if all or part of the property is reopened as a hotel operation, then individuals who were formerly employed have a right to return to work in their previously held jobs,” Boardman said, adding that while the contract is no longer in force, the return-to-work provision runs in perpetuity.

The former Sheraton building occupies 5.8 acres of prime real estate off of Route 7 in Tysons West. JBG Smith has not publicly shared its future plans for the site, but rising property values could make it ripe for redevelopment.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

County Proposes Expanding Tax Relief Program — “Today, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a public hearing on Dec. 7 to consider expanding the real estate tax relief program for seniors and people with disabilities…The expanded program would allow people with higher incomes and net worth to qualify, add a new 75% tax relief bracket and offer an option to defer tax payments.” [Fairfax County Government]

Man Sentenced in Falls Church Woman’s Drug-Related Death — “A former medical student from Ontario, Canada, was sentenced on Tuesday to one year in prison for distributing MDA — a psychedelic drug similar to MDMA, or “molly” — that resulted in the fatal overdose of a 21-year-old Falls Church woman in 2019, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.” [Patch]

MCA Takes Position on Tree Presevation Proposal — “McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board members on Nov. 3 commended the Fairfax County Tree Commission for crafting proposals to preserve the county’s tree canopy, but did not agree with all of the group’s recommendations…MCA’s resolution expressed concerns about the proposals regarding property setbacks and taller buildings.” [Sun Gazette]

Lewinsville Park Eyed for Pickleball Facilities — The Fairfax County Park Authority will present options to improve the park’s six existing tennis courts and introduce pickleball with a virtual public meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1. The potential project aims to address growing demand for pickleball facilities in the greater McLean area. [FCPA]

Local Veterans’ Job Fair Is Big Draw — “One week before Veterans Day, representatives of 66 companies interviewed job-seekers at the first annual Veteran and Military Career Fair on Nov. 4, 2021…Geared toward assisting veterans, active-duty service members transitioning out of the military, and military spouses, the hybrid event was attended by 250 job-seekers at the museum, and 259 virtually attendees located around the world.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

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U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria (via Google Maps)

A 26-year-old man from McLean has been convicted by a federal jury for creating and watching child pornography, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced yesterday (Wednesday).

Federal prosecutors say Zackary Ellis Sanders sexually exploited at least six different minors between 2017 and 2020, according to the news release:

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, from at least 2017 to 2020, Zackary Ellis Sanders, 26, engaged in sexual conversations over multiple mobile messaging platforms with at least six different minors. In these conversations, he directed five minors to engage in sexually explicit and self-harming conduct, record themselves doing so, and send the resulting videos to him. He also received videos of a sixth minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Additional forensic evidence recovered from multiple laptops and thumb drives found in Sanders’s bedroom pursuant to a court-authorized search established that he possessed different images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of other children, including videos depicting the sexual abuse of a toddler and prepubescent children being sexually abused and subjected to sadistic acts. Sanders obtained these images from a Darkweb website, the sole purpose of which was to share and facilitate the viewing of such material.

Sanders faces at least 15 years in prison — the mandatory minimum for the production, receipt, and possession of child pornography charges of which he was convicted. U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III has set the sentencing hearing for March 4, 2022.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative that the Department of Justice launched in May 2006 to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax County Police Department footage of Park Police shooting McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar (via FCPD)

A federal judge in Alexandria agreed with legal arguments for two U.S. Park Police officers after they pursued a 25-year-old motorist in 2017 and fatally shot him in his Jeep.

Judge Claude Hilton dismissed criminal charges against the officers on Friday (Oct. 22), writing in an opinion that McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar was driving erratically after another vehicle hit his Jeep on George Washington Memorial Parkway, leading the officers on a pursuit.

Hilton wrote in his decisions for officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard that they “were authorized by federal law to act as they did” and “the officers did no more than was necessary and proper.”

The officers sought immunity under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which gives federal laws and powers precedence over those of a state.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and Attorney General Mark Herring said in a joint statement that the state plans to appeal the case in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

“[We] do not believe the law allows an individual to circumvent the accountability of the criminal justice system simply because of who their employer is,” the joint statement said. “We believe that a jury should have the opportunity to hear all of the evidence and determine whether these men committed a crime when they shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar.”

According to Hilton’s ruling, a dispatcher initially told police that Ghaisar’s vehicle hit another vehicle but then corrected that information, saying the Jeep was hit. The crash involving a Toyota Corolla occurred in Alexandria just north of Slater’s Lane on Nov. 17, 2017.

The court wrote that Ghaisar ignored officers’ commands to stop and pull over, failed to stop at a stop sign, and repeatedly drove away while Amaya’s hand was placed on Ghasiar’s door handle.

When Amaya approached the vehicle on foot around Tulane Drive and ordered him to open the door, Ghaisar took off while Amaya’s hand was on the door, the court wrote.

Police later pulled him over in a residential neighborhood off the parkway and yelled commands at Ghaisar on foot, but Ghaisar drove away again, according to the court.

When the officers pulled him over at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue, they exited the patrol car. Amaya shouted commands to Ghaisar when his Jeep lurched forward toward Amaya, prompting him to fire through the Jeep’s windshield.

“The Jeep initially stopped but then moved forward again, causing both officers to fire at Ghaisar,” the court wrote. “The Jeep then rolled over into a ditch.”

Ghaisar placed the officers in a life-or-death situation, the judge found.

“The officers’ decision to discharge their firearms was necessary and proper under the circumstances and there is no evidence that the officers acted with malice, criminal intent, or any improper motivation,” the judge wrote.

It wasn’t immediately clear how a postponed federal wrongful death lawsuit by Ghaisar’s father against the U.S. will proceed.

Ghaisar’s family, the McLean community, and elected officials have criticized the Park Police and FBI over their handling of the investigation into the shooting, including the prolonged withholding of the identities of the officers involved.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice ultimately announced in November 2019 that they would not pursue charges against Amaya and Vinyard.

Descano put together a grand jury last year, and the officers were indicted in October 2020, both with a charge of manslaughter and another for reckless discharge of a firearm.

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Morning Notes

Indigenous Peoples’ Day Scheduling Changes Announced — Most Falls Church city buildings will be closed on Monday (Oct. 11) in recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with the exception of the community center, which will remain open for scheduled classes and camps. In addition, Fairfax Connector will operate on a holiday weekday service schedule.

Vienna Awarded for Liberty Amendments Month — The Virginia Municipal League named Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton its Local Champion Award winner this week for spearheading the first-ever Liberty Amendments Month. The town also won the 2021 President’s Award, which is the league’s “highest honor for innovative solutions by local government.” [Patch]

Eastern District of Virginia Gets New U.S. Attorney — The Senate voted yesterday (Wednesday) to confirm Jessica Aber as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which includes Fairfax County and operates out the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Her experience includes fraud and child exploitation cases as well as the prosecution of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, who was convicted of taking bribes but got the verdict overturned by the Supreme Court. [The Washington Post]

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