Fairfax Co. police chief: Officers sought ‘best possible outcome’ in US-1 barricade

Fairfax County, Virginia, police are offering new details on a 36-hour standoff with an armed woman who barricaded herself on U.S. Route 1.

In a news conference Thursday, Fairfax County Chief of Police Kevin Davis credited negotiators, who frequently communicated with the woman for more than a day, for enabling a safe resolution to the crisis.

“In an incident like this, we slow it down,” Davis said. “A lot of people have had questions and comments about why it took so long. The reason why it took so long is because we wanted to get to the best possible outcome for a person involved in a mental health crisis.”

Brittany Copelin, 29, was taken into custody just after midnight Thursday. Law enforcement said she stopped her Jeep on Route 1 following a slow-speed pursuit and threatened to harm herself, pointing a handgun to her head more than once.

New footage released Thursday evening showed Copelin surrendering to police. As she left her Jeep, police equipment injected gas into the vehicle to prevent her from getting back in.

Davis said officers at the scene immediately distanced themselves after seeing Copelin was armed, and secured the area. Police tactical units, mental health experts and negotiators were called in an attempt to de-escalate the crisis by building a sense of trust with Copelin, according to Davis.

Over the hours that followed, negotiators played recordings provided by members of Copelin’s family and asked her if she needed food or water. Copelin ultimately agreed to discard her weapon’s magazine — in exchange for doughnuts.

Chief Davis said the incident’s isolated nature afforded officers more time to seek a surrender, contrasted with a recent mass shooting in Nashville, where officers rapidly intervened to stop a person bent on hurting others.

He said choices made by law enforcement agencies in both cases reflected a “positive change” in American policing.

“She was certainly a danger to herself and others, but no one else was with her in the car, there was no immediate opportunity for her to cause harm to someone else,” said Davis, defending his department’s slower approach after hearing frustrated phone calls over traffic issues from Route 1’s closure.

Copelin, a resident of Charles County, Maryland, is accused of kidnapping a Laurel woman late last week. Fairfax County police conducted a welfare check in their jurisdiction Tuesday and encountered the alleged victim, who told officers that Copelin had been holding her.

Police soon found Copelin, and the ensuing slow-speed vehicle chase led to the barricade situation.

The Laurel Police Department said Thursday it had charged Copelin with multiple counts, including home invasion, assault and false imprisonment. She faces additional abduction and firearm-related charges in Fairfax County.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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