Report Released on 2006 Unintentional Fatal Shooting
Friday, January 12, 2007
Using a SWAT team to arrest a suspected sports gambler was unnecessary, and police could have used "lower-risk, less complex arrest techniques," Fairfax County's police chief said yesterday in a report on the fatal shooting of an unarmed man.
The death of Salvatore J. Culosi outside his Fair Oaks townhouse Jan. 24, 2006, brought criticism on Fairfax police for their first-ever unintentional shooting death and launched a nearly year-long internal investigation. That investigation has resulted in the shooter, Officer Deval V. Bullock, facing a three-week suspension without pay and a transfer out of the SWAT unit, numerous police sources said.
Fairfax Chief David M. Rohrer issued a 41-page report detailing the circumstances of the shooting, the conclusions reached by police investigators and a series of policy changes made as a result of the case.
The chief said police have developed a "comprehensive risk assessment form" to help determine when the SWAT team should be used, and a committee has been established to examine incidents involving use of serious force.
Salvatore and Anita Culosi, parents of the shooting victim, said last week that they plan to sue Fairfax County for wrongful death unless their demand for $12 million is met. They declined to speak yesterday, but their attorney, Bernard J. DiMuro, said Rohrer's report "confirms that Dr. Culosi's death was inexcusable and was the result of irresponsible police practices that unnecessarily endanger the community."
DiMuro added, "The proposed policy changes, if implemented, provide some solace to the family of Dr. Culosi that his senseless death will benefit the community and make Fairfax County a safer place to live."
The report, in which the police publicly identify Bullock for the first time, also details how a highly trained tactical officer such as Bullock, with 17 years' experience, could have unintentionally shot Culosi even though he should not have had his finger on the trigger. The internal police investigation, first reported by The Washington Post in November, found that Bullock's vehicle door bumped his left side as he was climbing out, and that his right side involuntarily flinched and caused him to fire.
"That doesn't make sense," DiMuro said, "that his finger was not on the trigger, but somehow the involuntary reflex caused the trigger finger to catch the trigger and pull it?" Rohrer's report noted that the .45-caliber pistol was tested and was not faulty.
Rohrer called his report "unprecedented" for the Fairfax police and that he intended to be "as open and transparent as possible." Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) called the report "gutsy," and said the report details "what happened, and I believe they've taken appropriate steps. The Board of Supervisors stands behind our police chief and our police department in this situation."
The report does not state what discipline was imposed on Bullock, due to the confidentiality requirements of personnel issues, police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said.
Bullock has been on administrative duties since shortly after the shooting. His attorney, Rodney G. Leffler, said he had not seen the report and could not comment.
In August, a police internal affairs report recommended that Bullock be suspended for 120 hours without pay and transferred out of the SWAT unit, according to the report shown to The Post.
Bullock appealed that recommendation to an internal trial board. The three-officer board heard the case early last month, police sources said, and left the 120-hour suspension intact. However, the board recommended that Rohrer allow Bullock to remain in the SWAT unit, where Bullock has worked since 1999.
On Monday, Rohrer rejected that recommendation and imposed both the suspension and the transfer, police sources said. Bullock could still appeal the discipline to County Executive Anthony H. Griffin.
Police said Culosi, 37, an optometrist, had been making football bets with a detective for about three months, and the tactical unit was enlisted to arrest Culosi and search his home for gambling records.
Rohrer's report states that Bullock was the only officer assigned to control Culosi until other officers arrived and that Bullock challenged this deviation from standard practice.
The report acknowledges that a search for records and documents is not normally one that needs higher-risk tactics. But because police had investigated a poker game with armed guards, and some high-stakes card games had been robbed at gunpoint, the SWAT unit was requested.
Rohrer said police knew that Culosi had no criminal past and no known weapons.
Culosi emerged from his townhouse about 9:30 p.m. to pay the undercover detective his weekend winnings. The detective signaled Bullock and another SWAT officer, who pulled up behind the detective. Bullock stepped out, his door hit him, and he fired one round through Culosi's side and into his chest, killing him instantly.