FBI Is Asked to Investigate Fatal Police Shooting
Saturday, March 25, 2006
The family of Salvatore J. Culosi, the unarmed man who was shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer, asked the FBI yesterday to investigate the case, a day after the county's chief prosecutor said he would not charge the officer.
Fairfax police were investigating whether Culosi, 37, an optometrist, was a sports bookmaker. On Jan. 24, as he stood next to an undercover officer's car in the Fair Lakes area, two SWAT officers were signaled to make an arrest. One of those officers, Deval V. Bullock, told investigators that his .45-caliber pistol accidentally fired as he approached Culosi.
On Thursday, Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. announced he would not charge Bullock, saying that "the shooting was clearly unintentional, was without malice and was not a criminal act." Bullock, 40, remains on administrative duties pending the outcome of a police internal affairs investigation.
Chatter whirled through radio talk shows, courthouse hallways and the Internet about Horan's decision. Criticism from one pair of radio hosts, Fred Grandy and Andy Parks on WMAL-AM 630, prompted Horan to call the program and tell them that prosecutorial ethics prevented him from charging the officer and letting a jury decide.
"You aren't supposed to charge people with a crime if you can't prove it," Horan said on the air. "You've got to know you can prove it." He later said the same standard prevented him from presenting the case to a grand jury.
Horan's on-air comments angered Culosi family members, who then called in and took turns attacking Horan's decision and the police use of SWAT officers when they serve search warrants.
In letters to the FBI's Washington field office and to Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, the Culosi family questioned "the inherent conflict of interest arising from Fairfax County investigating itself." Nationwide, most police departments investigate their actions. The family wondered whether Horan's record of never prosecuting a police officer in a shooting in his 39 years as commonwealth's attorney arose from the police self-investigations.
"As time goes on," the family's letter continued, "it appears this shooting is destined to be swept under a self-serving, bureaucratic investigation."
Debbie Weierman, an FBI spokeswoman, said, "If we receive any information requesting an FBI review of the incident, it will be addressed accordingly by the Washington field office."
Culosi's family has also asked the Fairfax Board of Supervisors to review the police department's policies on the use of force and the use of tactical officers. The board summoned Police Chief David M. Rohrer for one closed-door session shortly after the shooting, and Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) said yesterday that Rohrer has been asked to update the board Monday.
"My heart goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Culosi, just as parents, if nothing else," Gross said. "It's a tragic situation, and the decision that was made [Thursday by Horan] just heightens that for them."
Mary Ann Jennings, the Fairfax police spokeswoman, said the review of the department's SWAT policies included consulting other police departments and organizations. She also emphasized that the county's SWAT team does not handle all search warrants, only those in which commanders feel there may be an issue of officer safety or a possibility of evidence destruction. Horan said destruction of gambling evidence necessitated the SWAT team in Culosi's case.
Yesterday, lawyers debated Horan's view that because, in part, the officer had no malice toward Culosi, there was no crime. James G. Connell III was one of several defense attorneys who pointed out that Fairfax prosecutors often argue to juries that "malice can be inferred by use of a deadly weapon."
Bernard DiMuro, the Culosis' attorney, said another favored prosecution argument is that "a person is responsible for the consequences of an intended act. If you intend to pull your gun, point it and put your finger on the trigger, you are responsible."
Defense attorney and former Fairfax prosecutor Edward J. Nuttall, who also represents the Fairfax police union, said Horan is right. "You have to have intent for a crime to have occurred or negligence which rises to the level of recklessness," Nuttall said.
Horan said yesterday: "Simple negligence is not enough [to prove a crime]. You have to get to the point of criminal negligence -- willful, wanton, reckless disregard for human life." He said other states have a negligent-homicide statute, but Virginia's General Assembly has rejected attempts to install one.