By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006; A01
Fairfax County's police chief said yesterday that one of his officers accidentally shot and killed an optometrist outside the unarmed man's townhouse Tuesday night as an undercover detective was about to arrest him on suspicion of gambling on sports.
Police had been secretly making bets with Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., 37, since October as part of a gambling investigation, according to court records. They planned to search his home in the Fair Oaks area, just off Lee Highway, shortly after 9:30 p.m.
Culosi came out of his townhouse on Cavalier Landing Court about 9:35 p.m. and was standing next to the detective's sport-utility vehicle, police said, when the detective gave a signal to tactical officers assembled nearby to move in and arrest Culosi.
"As they approached him . . . one officer's weapon, a handgun, was unintentionally discharged," said Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer.
Culosi was not making any threatening moves when he was shot once in the upper part of his body, police said. He was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The last fatal police shooting in Fairfax was in September 2000, when an officer killed a man threatening him with a woodcutting tool.
"On behalf of the Fairfax County Police Department and myself, I wish to express our condolences and our sincere sympathy to Mr. Culosi's family and friends," Rohrer said. He declined to answer questions after making the statement.
Police departments generally do not accept responsibility for an officer-involved shooting before an investigation is completed.
Culosi's family in Annandale was grief-stricken and declined to be interviewed. Culosi's older sister, Constance Culosi Gulley, issued a statement saying that her brother was "a respected local businessman and doctor with his whole life ahead of him and didn't deserve to have his life end this way."
Culosi grew up just off Annandale Road, graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School and the University of Virginia, then attended the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis and became a doctor of optometry. He opened practices in Manassas and Warrenton that are attached to Wal-Mart stores.
The officer, a 17-year veteran assigned to the police tactical unit, was not identified. He was placed on leave with pay while police conduct both an internal administrative investigation and a criminal investigation. Rohrer also expressed support for the officer, calling him a valued veteran of the department.
Lt. Richard Perez, a police spokesman, said he could not say how or why the gun discharged.
"When you draw the weapon, you always try to assess what the potential threat is going to be," Perez said. He said the officers in the tactical squad are "highly trained officers. Do unintentional shootings occur? Absolutely. We're humans, and these kind of things do occur."
Perez said he did not know what type of handgun Culosi was shot with.
After several years without any shootings, officers shot and wounded several people last year, including one of their own officers in an accidental shooting. A robbery suspect was shot this month on Route 1. In the nearly 39 years that Robert F. Horan Jr. has been the chief prosecutor in Fairfax, no officer has been charged with improperly shooting someone.
Rohrer said in his statement that the tactical squad routinely performs arrests and provides support for detectives executing search warrants. The chief said in his statement that "we will fully review, as always, our policies, practices and this operation in detail."
Culosi's family said that "police action that results in the death of an unarmed, nonthreatening person calls for a full and open investigation. We hope proper steps are taken by county police to ensure other families won't have to endure similar pain."
Culosi was a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, longtime friend Steve Lunceford said. Culosi excelled at soccer, playing on travel teams as a youth and for the O'Connell varsity. He was not married and had no children.
"He was gregarious, outgoing, loved to sing off-key at weddings," Lunceford said. "For this to happen, it's surreal. The police need to account for and be held accountable for their actions."
Deon Chapman said he became a casual friend of Culosi's after meeting him at a pool tournament at a Fairfax bar about 10 years ago. "He was a laid-back guy, funny guy. . . . I've never known him to even carry a pocketknife. This is a college boy, clean-cut." He also said he had no idea that Culosi might have been a bookie.
In an affidavit for the search warrant, Detective David J. Baucom, who often investigates sports gambling in Fairfax, said he met Culosi at a bar in October and started making NFL bets with him by cell phone. Baucom said he placed more than $28,000 in bets on games through last Sunday and met Culosi about every two weeks to pay his debts or collect his winnings, either at a restaurant or Culosi's home. Through Jan. 16, Baucom had lost more than $5,500 to Culosi, his affidavit stated.
Lt. Steve Thompson, Baucom's supervisor in the police organized crime division, said in a recent interview that there is no shortage of sports bookies in Fairfax and that police investigate only those who meet certain criteria. He said that Fairfax typically goes after only those bookies with many customers who take in $100,000 in bets per week and that larger bookies will take in $300,000 to $400,000 on a busy football weekend.
Last month, another investigation headed by Baucom resulted in the arrest of a man suspected of being a bookie who lives in Washington but operated in Fairfax. When police searched his safe deposit boxes, they seized nearly $350,000 in cash, court records show. Charges against that man are pending.
After shooting Culosi, police searched his townhouse. The results of that search were not available yesterday.
Perez said Culosi had not displayed a weapon or shown any violent tendencies while he was being investigated by Baucom. But Perez said police had to be prepared for any possibility, because "the unexpected can occur."
Staff writers Allan Lengel and Carol Morello contributed to this report.