Lawyer sues Fairfax over 2009 shooting of unarmed motorist

November 17, 2011

A Manassas lawyer has sued Fairfax County, its police department and the officer who shot and killed David A. Masters, an unarmed motorist, just making the two-year deadline for filing a civil lawsuit.

The suit names Masters’s ex-wife and stepdaughter, who administer his estate, as the plaintiffs. But the women never consented to the filing.

The lawyer who filed the suit, Jon E. Shields, said he needed to act before the statute of limitations expired, and that Masters’s ex-wife and stepdaughter were not performing their duties as estate administrators.

Gail Masters, David Masters’s ex-wife, best friend and caretaker when he was shot and killed Nov. 13, 2009, said she had no interest in a lawsuit. She said Shields had not contacted her or her daughter, Courtney Hubbard, before naming them as plaintiffs. The lawsuit states that Shields represents Masters and Hubbard, who is incorrectly identified as “Courtney Masters.”

If the suit is declared invalid, it could signal the end of any legal action against Fairfax or former officer David S. Ziants, who killed Masters and was fired earlier this year. That, in turn, would prevent lawyers, Masters’s family or the public from seeing the investigative reports, witness statements and in-car videotapes of the incident, which police typically withhold except under subpoena in civil cases such as these.

Masters, a former Green Beret who was living on disability benefits after a job accident, lived in Fredericksburg. In 2007, he prepared a will naming Hubbard and Gail Masters as his heirs and executors. He was largely estranged from his biological family, including his sister in Manassas. Shields is married to David Masters’s sister, Joyce Shields.

In 2009, police were looking for Masters after he stole some flowers out of a planter at a business in Hybla Valley. A few minutes later, officers saw Masters’s Chevrolet Blazer and pulled up behind him at Route 1 and Fort Hunt Road.

Prosecutors said Ziants stood alongside Masters and ordered him out of the vehicle. Instead, the Blazer rolled slowly forward. Ziants mistakenly thought that Masters had struck another officer, that Masters was reaching for a gun and that the Blazer was stolen, prosecutors said. He fired twice, killing Masters. Ziants was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Shields filed suit on Monday in Prince William County Circuit Court against Fairfax County, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, Fairfax police and its chief, David M. Rohrer, and Ziants. Prince William was chosen because it is where Ziants lives, according to the suit.

Under Virginia law, only the administrators of an estate can file a wrongful-death suit, on behalf of the estate. But Virginia law also states that only family members can recover damages from such a suit, and Hubbard and Gail Masters do not qualify.

Shields said that Hubbard and Gail Masters have “a fiduciary duty to the statutory beneficiaries,” meaning his wife and other family members. David Masters’s mother also lives in Manassas, his father lives in Florida and he has a brother in Rhode Island. “I’m taking steps to protect them,” Shields said.

He said he had difficulty contacting Hubbard and Gail Masters, who live in David Masters’s trailer. He said if they did not join the lawsuit, he would “take other steps to have them substituted,” meaning he would go to court in Fredericksburg and try to have them replaced as administrators of the estate.

Shields said “it would be a tragedy for Fairfax County to benefit” from a lack of legal action “and go without having to answer questions about what happened that day.” He added, “This can probably be resolved in a short amount of time.”

Gail Masters and Hubbard declined to comment on the suit, other than to say they had not authorized Shields to file it. They have expressed no interest in litigation and were anxious for the filing deadline to pass.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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