Va. Officer Might Be Suspended For Fatality
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Fairfax County police officials want to suspend for three weeks without pay the officer who accidentally shot and killed Salvatore J. Culosi, an unarmed optometrist being investigated for sports gambling, according to an internal affairs report.
The punishment recommended for Officer Deval V. Bullock in the shooting, which occurred in January, has outraged fellow officers, who said it is too harsh, and Culosi's family, who said Bullock should never again be employed in law enforcement.
"Any sanction short of this we consider to be nothing more than permission to go out once again and have the opportunity to unjustly kill," Culosi's parents, Salvatore and Anita Culosi, said in a statement.
Fairfax officers said the proposed suspension would go far beyond what is typically imposed for an accidental shooting. "The discipline is very disproportionate to prior [shooting] cases," said Officer Marshall Thielen, president of the Fairfax police officers union. "This was a case where an officer was trying to do everything right, with good intentions. I feel the punishment may be politically motivated because of all the media attention" over the case.
Bullock, through his attorney, declined to comment. He is assigned to administrative duties while he appeals the possible suspension. Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer declined to comment because the case is a personnel matter and is pending.
The internal affairs report, shown to The Washington Post, is the first explanation of how Bullock, an experienced and highly trained tactical officer, could accidentally shoot a man who was not challenging him, trying to escape or suspected of being armed.
On the night of Jan. 24, the report says, Bullock was getting out of his vehicle when he was bumped on his left side by the vehicle's door, causing his right hand to "involuntarily make a fist and depress the trigger" of his .45-caliber handgun.
Culosi, 37, was standing outside an undercover police vehicle, which was parked behind his townhouse in the Fair Oaks area. After Culosi was alleged to have paid the undercover officer, who was investigating accusations that he was a sports bookmaker, the officer signaled for two SWAT officers, including Bullock, to make the arrest.
Instead, Bullock, 40, fired one shot into Culosi's side, killing him almost instantly.
Although police deemed Bullock's actions accidental, the internal affairs report by Maj. Thomas Ryan says Bullock rushed to get out of his vehicle and arrest Culosi. "This hurried movement caused you to lose sight of your surroundings," Ryan wrote, "and compromised the safety of your weapon while the muzzle was pointed in the direction of Mr. Culosi."
Ryan recommended that Bullock, a 17-year veteran with no previous disciplinary record, be suspended for 120 hours and transferred out of the SWAT unit.
In their statement last night, Culosi's parents accused Fairfax police of not updating them on the 10-month investigation and of not altering "policies that allow and support the use of deadly force where it is clearly not justified. . . . we fear for other families and the residents and citizens of Fairfax County."