By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006
The Fairfax County police officer who shot an unarmed man to death in January will not be charged with a crime, the county's chief prosecutor announced yesterday, and the man's family angrily responded by claiming that a civilian in the same situation would have been arrested.
From the start, Fairfax police declared that the killing of Salvatore J. Culosi, 37, was an accident and that the SWAT officer who fired had done so unintentionally. Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said that when a person fires a gun without malice and unintentionally kills someone, "they do not commit a crime."
"I feel for the family of the victim in this case," Horan said. "You have to. But I also feel for the police officer. This is a good police officer. Fine record, almost 17 years. He's as shattered by this as any good police officer should be."
The officer is Deval V. Bullock, 40, a longtime member of Fairfax's SWAT team, numerous sources familiar with the case said. Bullock declined to comment when contacted earlier this week.
"My son is lying in a cemetery," said Anita Culosi, the victim's mother. "His whole life was ahead of him. That man pulled a trigger and shot my son dead. I can't handle that. It's just pathetic that they don't find something wrong with what they did to my boy."
Bernard DiMuro, the Culosi family's attorney, said: "A pointed gun with a finger on the trigger is not an accident. There is no doubt that had the shooter not been a police officer, he would have been charged criminally, and a jury would have decided the issue." He said Horan could have charged the officer with second-degree murder or manslaughter.
The Culosis also questioned whether the police could fairly investigate themselves and whether Horan had received a complete investigation. The family sent a letter to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors asking it to review the case, and to review police policies on the use of force and the use of SWAT teams as well.
Police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said police are continuing to review their policies on the use of force and also on the use of SWAT teams in serving search warrants. Horan said he thought the use of SWAT teams by Fairfax police was appropriate.
Police had been investigating whether Culosi, an optometrist with offices in Manassas and Warrenton, was a sports bookmaker. An undercover officer had been placing bets with Culosi for nearly four months and arrived outside Culosi's townhouse in the Fair Lakes area on Jan. 24 to collect $1,500 in winnings, Horan said.
Culosi was standing next to the officer's car, on the passenger side, when the officer gave the sign for two SWAT officers to move in. They headed toward the car, one to arrest Culosi and one to protect the undercover officer, Horan said.
One officer pulled up in a car behind the undercover officer's. "As the officer came out, he was bringing his weapon up," Horan said. "In the course of bringing his weapon up, it discharged. He has no real explanation how."
Horan said the officer shouted the word "police" at Culosi. "Right after "police,' " Horan said, "it went pow."
Horan said the officer was aware that he should not have had a finger on the trigger and that he should not have had his .45-caliber H&K handgun pointed at anyone. "As he says, you keep your finger straight," Horan said. "He felt his finger was straight . . . but obviously his finger is not straight up. His finger has to be on the trigger."
Horan said the officer's gun was tested and was not at fault. He said the gun had a standard trigger pull and was modified only to add a flashlight on the barrel, but the flashlight was not in use.
Horan's decision not to pursue criminal charges does not affect any civil lawsuit the family might file, and DiMuro said one is likely.
The officer, originally placed on leave with pay, returned to work in an administrative job a couple of days after the shooting, Jennings said. Police said they will resume an internal investigation of the officer; they were prevented from interviewing him while the criminal probe was pending.
Horan said the accident "could have been based on the number of hours the officer was awake that day." He said the officer had started working at 5 a.m., overseeing a managed deer hunt in the Great Falls area aimed at thinning the deer population. Horan said the officer went home at noon that day, then returned to work at 8 p.m. Culosi was shot at 9:35 p.m.
Culosi's family members said they were launching a Web site, http://www.justiceforsal.com , to provide friends and the public with information about the case. "We are not going to sit by and allow this to happen to another citizen of Fairfax County," said Salvatore J. Culosi, the victim's father. "Our family will never understand this. And we will never be the same."