The Fairfax County police officer who shot and killed unarmed motorist David Masters on Route 1 in 2009 has been fired for improper use of deadly force, the Fairfax police department said Tuesday.
The department confirmed that David Scott Ziants, 28, was the officer who was standing alongside Masters’ Chevrolet Blazer truck on Nov. 13, 2009, when it started to roll slowly away from him and several other officers. Ziants told investigators he thought one of the other officers had been struck, and that Masters was reaching for a weapon.
Ziants fired twice, striking Masters, 52, once in the left shoulder and then fatally piercing vital organs, and grazing him with the second shot. Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh ruled that the shooting did not warrant criminal charges, but Fairfax police said a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting is continuing.
Police department observers could not recall an officer being fired for being involved in a fatal shooting, and no Fairfax officer has ever been charged in an on-duty shooting. In January 2006, Officer Deval Bullock shot and killed unarmed optometrist Salvatore Culosi during an arrest for suspected sports gambling, but Bullock was only demoted from the SWAT team and suspended without pay for three weeks. Earlier this year, Fairfax County paid Culosi’s family $2 million to settle their civil suit.
Gail Masters said Tuesday that Ziants shot her ex-husband “for no reason.”
She said Ziants “should have been treated the same way anybody would’ve who shot and killed somebody. He ruined (daughter) Courtney’s and my life.”
At the Fairfax government center, the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability was lobbying Tuesday for a role in overseeing such cases. Burton Rubin, the group’s vice president, said the Masters shooting was one of the main motivators for the group’s formation.
“An officer should not be using deadly force unless his life or someone else’s life is in danger,” Rubin said. “The police have a job, that’s to apprehend people and bring them before the courts.”
No civil suit has been filed in the Masters case. David Masters’ sister and brother-in-law have filed notice of intent to sue. But David Masters named his ex-wife and stepdaughter as executors of his estate, so only they may file suit, but under Virginia law only family members are entitled to recover damages in a wrongful death case.
Ziants declined comment when a reporter knocked on the door of his Prince William County home.
His lawyer, Edward Nuttall, said he had not seen the findings and termination decision made by Fairfax Chief David M. Rohrer, and no longer represented Ziants. The officer was fired on May 6, Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said, after a nearly 18-month internal investigation.
The internal investigation concluded that Ziants’s actions “were not in compliance with Departmental policies on the performance of duty and use of force,” Jennings said in response to a reporter’s inquiry. “The Department’s use of deadly force policy is stricter than what is allowed by law. It prohibits the use of deadly force, except in limited circumstances, which were not found to exist when [Officer] Ziants shot Mr. Masters.”
Masters, a former Army Green Beret, also suffered from bipolar disorder and had acted erratically shortly before the shooting, his ex-wife said. On the afternoon of the shooting, he had suddenly ripped some colorful flowers from planters outside a landscaping business on Route 1, which the business reported to police along with his license plate, “FOO1.”
A lookout was broadcast for Masters’ Blazer. Around the same time, another case was reported involving a stolen car. When officers spotted Masters’ Blazer and pulled behind it, Morrogh said that Ziants, an Army veteran who had been an officer for six years at the time, mistakenly thought the Blazer was stolen.
An officer stood in front of the Blazer as it was stopped at Fort Hunt Road, another stood behind, and Ziants was alongside Masters, Morrogh said at the time of his ruling in January 2010. But rather than emerge from the vehicle, Masters rolled forward.
Ziants mistakenly thought the officer in front had been hit, though he had merely turned to walk back to his own car, and Ziants also wrongly thought Masters was reaching for a gun, Morrogh said. Ziants fired twice as the Blazer rolled away from him. The prosecutor said Ziants did not have criminal intent in shooting Masters.
Gail Masters still has not been able to retrieve the Blazer in which David Masters, a former Army Green Beret, was shot in. Police declined to release the truck for more than a year, and now have informed Gail Masters that she must have it towed from a police lot in Chantilly to her home in Fredericksburg. Gail Masters said she does not have the money for that.
“You know, this still hurts,” she said through tears. “I think about him every day, I guess because I’m living here,” referring to David Masters’ trailer that she now occupies. “I was used to taking care of Dave,” a carpenter who was disabled because of a work accident and heart troubles. “It’s just hard.”