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Posted at 6:42 PM ET, 02/ 1/2010

A double standard in Fairfax police shooting

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Langdon P. Williams Jr.
Reston

The decision of Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh not to prosecute the county police officer who killed David A. Masters provides us with another example of our society’s fondness for double standards and its growing inequality [“Fairfax officer cleared in death,” Metro, Jan. 28].

I assume Mr. Morrogh has parsed the law and has legal justification for his decision. But I suspect that if Mr. Masters’s death had been caused by someone other than a law enforcement officer, that person would be facing serious jail time — hence, the double standard.

Decisions like this have happened before in Fairfax County. In 2000, a Prince George’s County police officer shot an unarmed suspect in the back in Fairfax County, and Mr. Morrogh’s predecessor didn’t prosecute. It was a Prince George’s problem, you see.

Citizens dislike what they perceive to be unequal treatment provided by our legal system. Unequal treatment weakens our society, its standards and its values, and it should be exposed for what it is in order to curtail further mistakes.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | February 1, 2010; 6:42 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County, HotTopic, crime  
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Comments

From the original article...

""the officer is required to make a split-second judgment in circumstances that are tense and rapidly evolving," Morrogh said. "For the officer to wait to see the barrel of the weapon, you can't expect an officer to do that.""

Clear double standard here!!! Say I was arguing with someone in their car who had sideswiped my car and he reached down and I just up and shot him... I would already be in jail... even if it turned out he did have a weapon. Heck, even if I waited until i saw a weapon, I'd be tried at the very least. Failing to at least give this officer a day in court just proves that "the thin blue line" will protect their own regardless of the rights of the citizens they are supposed to be sworn to protect and serve.

Posted by: wildfyre99 | February 2, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

I was among the people disturbed by the decision in the case of the shooting of an unarmed man, David A. Masters, in my neighborhood by a young police officer whose identity has thus far been protected. I was encouraged by the editorials I have read that this is not going unnoticed and heartened to know that the FBI are investigating. This double standard cannot be tolerated.

I am very concerned that an officer's inexperience and level of anxiety in a situation may have prompted him to decide to fire his gun in a crowded intersection on a congested Friday. I cross this intersection multiple times daily. It is fortunate that no one else was injured but this poor soul who obviously had some demons he'd been wrestling for years.

I must say I am not surprised by the quick decision in favor of the police officer. I am also sure his identity will be revealed at some point. I do believe the FBI will have a different take on this case and I hope Mr.Morrough knows that people are watching what decisions he makes in the name of the justice.

Posted by: phillykath | February 2, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

While it is utterly tragic that Mr. Masters lost his life under such circumstances, his behavior was the cause- nothing else. I am certain that no one feels worse about this tragedy than does the officer, and no organization feels the pain more than the Fairfax County Police Department
In fact, there is a double standard- one that is codified by Virginia law that addresses just such circumstances when a sworn officer has to make a split-second, life or death decision in the line of duty. This special trust and special responsibility is provided to those who, under law, have chosen to put themselves at risk for our protection and our safety.
In this case, when it turns out that the person representing the threat was not armed, it is especially tragic- but the officer responded to the threat in front of him with the information he had at that moment.

Posted by: coyletom04 | February 2, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

To those of you who are concerned about the double statndard, you are NOT charged with enforcing the law. An officer only has so much time to make a life or death decision.

The officer acted based on what he perceived the situation to be. He felt threatened and he acted. He acted justly, and this has been borne out by the subsequent investigation.

Posted by: jnrentz@aol.com | February 2, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

What information did the officer have to think Mr. Masters had a firearm? Was he a felon or habitual petty criminal? Was he a concealed handgun permit holder? Was there a great big NRA sticker on the window? Frankly,it's doubtful that he had any information that Mr. Masters had a firearm. Furthermore, a "suspect" reaching down is a reason to warn him to keep his hands in view, not a reason to just start shooting. No, what we have here is a jumpy junior inexperienced officer who made a foolish mistake and made an innocent citizen pay for his ineptitude.

However, the officer may have indeed been justified, but WE deserve his day in court. Let a jury decide, not some bureaucrat.

Posted by: wildfyre99 | February 2, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, faulty logic. It isn't a double-standard. This is a law enforcement officer, not an armed citizen (and thus two different circumstances so it can't be a double-standard).

If in this author's example it was a citizen that felt threatened, that citizen should first try to get away before using deadly force. A law enforcement officer doesn't have that option; they are there to enforce the law which often puts them at risk.

In this case, there was an indication that this was a possible felon (stolen auto from original article) and the victim made several choices that can be perceived as threats. I sincerely doubt the FBI will find any grounds for further action. In fact, I sincerely doubt if this had gone to trial that the officer would have been found guilty.

Posted by: aeroscout | February 2, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Langdon Williams deserves the highest compliment for his excellent LTE pointing out the downside of unequal treatment when investigation into possible wrongdoing by an agency is done internally, in secret, and by its own organization and affiliates. In this instance the FBI is an affiliate holding a vested interest in protecting the secrecy of how the ciminal justice system operates. Because the criminal justice system investigates itself and the facts and the review process, are not made public, just the outcome, abuses of such unchecked power will abound.

Posted by: rosstone | February 2, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

While it is tragic that a police officer shot and killed someone, the writer is mistaken in their understanding of double standard. In order for the claim to be true, both parties that some standard is being applied must have equal standing in all things. A civilian and a police officer do not have equal standing regarding the use of firearms. Even if the civilian has a concealed carry weapons(CCW) permit, there are very limited circumstances where the use of the firearm is legally permitted. A police officer is allowed to draw their weapon in virtually any circumstance that can be reasonably judged as being a threat to their life or another persons. The situation does not meet the test of being a double standard.

In this case the officer involved clearly believed that David Masters had already acted in a life-threatening way toward another officer and he thought Mr. Masters was reaching for gun. Whatever Mr. Masters true intentions, he did not obey a lawful command from a police officer and that made an already confrontational situation turn deadly.

Posted by: Pleaseuseyerbrain | February 2, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I agree that a double standard has been applied. The entire matter was handled in secret with a very long delay and still no words from the police themselves. The officer and his colleagues were probably not immediately questioned following the incident and therefore had time to prepare their stories in consultation with their attorneys. Had this been a shooting involving a citizen, we would have received a report shortly after the incident, probably followed shortly thereafter with charges being filed. The only source of objective information were the excellent news reports in the Post Metro section. This is a travesty of justice. Please also recall the shooting of the unarmed gambling suspect by a heavily armed member of a swat team. An example of overkill in the use of force by the Fairfax Police. The tragic shooting at the Sully Station and the growing number of private arsenals unfortunately may be playing a role in how these incidents were handled.

Posted by: mkieffer | February 3, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

The basic problem I have with this shooting is that there were TWO officers in FRONT of the vehicle neither of whom felt threatened enough to shoot. The office who was BEHIND the driver felt his life was in danger? He said that the driver bent over and he was afraid he was reaching for a gun. Let's say the drive DID have a gun in the cab and WAS reaching for it. To shoot at the office BEHIND him the driver would have to raise the gun up over the door frame and either shoot blindly over his shoulder or turn at least 90% in his seat in order to see the officer.

While I believe the office really thought his life was in danger he shot a man IN THE BACK who posed an immediate threat to him. This reflects more on his training. Police work is stressful. Military service in a war zone is stressful but we expect soldiers to be able to handle the stress without shooting innocent people. If one of the two offices in front of the vehicle had said something about a gun or starting shooting then I would expect the office behind the vehicle to shoot also to protect his comrades.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | February 4, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

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