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