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Culosi's police shooting case languishing in federal court

Fairfax County police officers have killed nine people since 2006. Five of them were committing, or had just committed, serious felonies and were armed. Two were disturbed people who wouldn't put down their weapons. The other two were David A. Masters, who was unarmed and killed last week on Route 1, and Sal Culosi.

Perhaps not by coincidence, Sal Culosi's dad called the other day. "Didn't they learn anything from my son's death?" he asked rhetorically. He then provided an update on the status of his family's lawsuit against Fairfax County police and the officer who shot his son.

To recap, in January 2006, Sal Culosi was a 37-year-old optometrist who lived in a townhouse outside Fairfax City. He made a good living, and he also liked to bet on sports, often at the now-defunct Thursday’s Sports Bar on Jermantown Road.

It was there, during a Monday Night Football game, he met Fairfax Detective Dave Baucom, who asked to start making bets with Culosi. Beginning in the fall of 2005, Baucom lost more than $5,000 of Fairfax taxpayers’ money betting with Culosi. Whether that was investigative strategy, or Baucom simply had a bad run against the pointspread, has never been made clear.

But Baucom did hit on the AFC Championship game, and he and his bosses decided it was time to arrest “Sal the Bookie.” Baucom asked for, and got, a SWAT team to help him make the arrest after he picked up his winnings from Culosi. As Culosi stood in the doorway of Baucom’s SUV behind his townhouse, having just handed Baucom a wad of cash, another SUV pulled up, Officer Deval Bullock jumped out, aimed his gun at Culosi and then shot him once in the chest.

Bullock ran over to Culosi, who said something like, “Dude, what are you doing?” And then he died. He was barefoot, and unarmed.

Bullock said he fired accidentally, after his car door bumped his non-shooting arm. The Fairfax prosecutor declined to charge Bullock. The police suspended him for three weeks without pay and removed him from the SWAT team. In 2007, Culosi’s family sued the police and Bullock in federal court in Alexandria.

The case trudged through the civil system, and Culosi’s lawyers uncovered new evidence about the shooting that contradicted the police version. But last year, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema threw Fairfax County out of the case as a defendant, saying their own policies and practices weren’t at fault. The Culosis appealed. Bullock also appealed, saying he should also have been released as a defendant.

The case was argued in Richmond last month at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and now both sides are waiting for the ruling.

It’s coming up on the four-year mark of the shooting, but the pain is still fresh for Culosi’s parents, who had hoped the police would temper their use of guns on citizens. “You don’t draw weapons unless you have to,” the elder Sal Culosi said. “That’s the issue. They haven’t learned anything,” he said referring to the Masters shooting. “There’s a time to draw a weapon. And in these two cases, that wasn’t the time.”

-- Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  November 20, 2009; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , Police Shootings , Tom Jackman , Updates  
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Comments


Drawing the officer's gun isn't as big a deal as pointing the gun at the person. We now have at least two very suspicious shootings.

The police want our respect and trust but how can we do that if they stonewall every time an officer kills or wounds a suspect?


Posted by: mortified469 | November 20, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

There is a body of case law that indicates that if Fairfax County did not provide testimony and documentation to show that it had trained Officer Bullock under stressful "real-life" conditions using simulated ammunition -- and that it had repeated such training at least annually -- Judge Brinkema would have been wrong in dismissing the county as a defendant in the Culosi case.

If the Culosi family's attorney did not aggressively pursue this point, he was remiss in his duty to them.

Hopefully the Master's case will get clarification on the training procedure issue one way or the other.

Posted by: tdb001 | November 20, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

First, I offer my Most Sincere Condolences to the family of David A. Masters. To have served our country as a Green Beret, survive, and then to be shot and killed on your own soil….in my opinion, by what appears to be another over reaction/excess by a FC police officer, is too much for me to absorb and be objective about.
As for my son, Dr. Salvatore J. Culosi being referred to in quotes as he was, may be a sarcasm or criticism to underscore the absurdity of how the FC police perceived my son, but the written word leaves no room for inflection or tone, and its “might” is cutting. So…I am hurt and offended by that description, and as his mother I would be remiss, if I did not speak out, for those of us who love Sal; our family and his friends, if I made no comment to this wording.
Additionally, readers who did not know my son, will be left with an impression that is wrong and that is dishonoring to my son’s memory.
Let us not forget, Sal was being served a document search warrant, he was standing in full view, in his socks, polo shirt and jeans, compliant, unarmed, never owned a weapon, non-threatening, non-violent, did not have a criminal record, and by the FCPD’s own assessment, a low-risk. Yet they chose to send a SWAT team…and now it is soon to be 46 months that I visit my forever 37 year old son at his resting place.
I hope “they” all enjoy their Thanksgiving…because of them…there are those of us who never will again.
My prayers go out to the Masters family.
With My Deepest Sympathy
Anita L. Culosi (Sal’s Mom)

Posted by: sjculosi | November 20, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Yet another senseless, non provoked, death caused by a Washington DC/Metro Area Police Department. Bullock and the other officer(s) involved in all of these shootings should be in jail for 2nd degree murder. I have heard from a witness to the Masters' shooting that the police officer shot Masters prior to Masters' truck rolling through the intersection. Therefore, Masters was not fleeing or evading police.
Police Officers are not above the law and when they commit a crime, better be brought to justice.

Posted by: neil64 | November 20, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

The Post shouldn't forget the off duty Alexandria cop who killed a kid when a group of teens walked out on a check at IHOP a few years back. I do believe that most (at least a small majority) of police are levelheaded public servants, but there can be no doubt the profession attracts all sorts of power hungry, shoot first ask questions later types.
Look no further than PG County. Where we still wonder why the Sheriff's Dep't has to have a SWAT team??
In addition, the former Fairfax State's Attorney, the infamous Horan, NEVER charged an officer with a shooting. We'll see if the tradition continues.

Posted by: Observer21 | November 21, 2009 12:19 AM | Report abuse

In response to Mrs. Culosi: The writer's use of quotation marks was intended to signify that that was the police department's view of Culosi. But it was sloppy and poorly done. It was the writer's fault and, it should be noted, the writer is an idiot.

Tom Jackman

Posted by: TomJackman | November 21, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

The SWAT officer did not mean to kill Culosi. If the family believes that then they have a screw loose. The bottom line is that if this man had not chosen a criminal lifestyle as a bookie he would be alive today.

Posted by: MKadyman | November 22, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

To: MKadyman

You must be a member of law enforcement; I don't remember there having been a conviction in the case of Mr. Culosi. To make the statement that Mr. Culosi chose a life of crime is presumptious. This is the US, not Nazi Germany. I think many in law enforcement think this way and I belive this to be a threat to the greater good of the community. Enforce the law and let the Courts decide guilt and sentencing!!!

Posted by: ILuvUS | November 24, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

To:ILuvUS

With all due respect, and I don't mean to speak for MKadyman, but you know that's not what he/she was talking about.

This is way Jackman's article angers me when he writes:

It was there, during a Monday Night Football game, he met Fairfax Detective Dave Baucom, who asked to start making bets with Culosi. Beginning in the fall of 2005, Baucom lost more than $5,000 of Fairfax taxpayers’ money betting with Culosi. Whether that was investigative strategy, or Baucom simply had a bad run against the pointspread, has never been made clear.

Jackman doesn't write that Detective Baucom was working undercover and not just spending the county's money willey nilley. Good police work targets crimes and criminal activity. Sometimes its crimes that might be perceived by some as minor crimes. There are those of us however who understand that minor crimes sometimes lead to bigger crimes.

It also angered me when Jackman said:

But Baucom did hit on the AFC Championship game, and he and his bosses decided it was time to arrest “Sal the Bookie.”

Sal the Bookie? Did the police department really refer to Mr. Culosi as “Sal the Bookie?” Jackman apologized in his post for the “quote”; “The writer's use of quotation marks was intended to signify that that was the police department's view of Culosi.”

Was this really the police department’s view of Mr. Culosi, because no verbal or written statements I know of by the Fairfax County Police referred to Mr. Culosi as “Sal the Bookie.” However, it should be noted that Jackman’s reference, all be it hurtful and offensive to some, would not be factually incorrect.

Bookie or Bookmaker, Definition from The American Heritage Dictionary; “One who accepts and pays off bets, a person who as a occupation accepts bets and pays out to winning betters.”

Posted by: sshill41 | November 24, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

to sshill41,

Perhaps you are the type of person who needs everything spelled out for him but I was able to figure out that Officer Baucom was working undercover. What I would like to know it whether his investigative insight led to the assinine decision to involve a SWAT team in the arrest of a bookie-optometrist.

Posted by: Cossackathon | November 25, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

MKadyman,

Was Dr. Culosi convicted of anything? Was he? You know damn well he wasn't. Following your logic being accused of a crime is akin to being subject to a death sentence. There are some countries which this principle prevails, like North Korea and Zimbabwe. Is that what you want for Fairfax County? I'd rather live under the rule of law.

Posted by: Cossackathon | November 25, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

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