By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2007; B01
The parents of Salvatore Culosi, who was shot to death last year by a Fairfax County tactical officer, filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the county, the police chief and the officer, alleging that police exercised gross negligence by using deadly force to arrest a suspected sports gambler.
"Nearly 14 months and still no justice for Sal," Culosi's parents, Salvatore and Anita Culosi, wrote in a statement yesterday. "Despite all our efforts, the county continues to refuse to answer our questions. This leaves us no recourse but to pursue truth and accountability through the courts."
The lawsuit was filed after Fairfax County lawyers rejected the Culosis' demand in January for $12 million, along with an offer of mediation and a request to voluntarily turn over police records that might answer their questions, family attorney Bernard J. DiMuro said.
The lawsuit names Fairfax County, Police Chief David M. Rohrer and tactical officer Deval V. Bullock as defendants. Spokeswomen for the county and the police department said they could not comment on pending litigation.
Culosi was a 37-year-old unmarried optometrist and Northern Virginia native who lived in an apartment in the Fair Oaks area, just off Lee Highway. According to court records, in October 2005, he met an undercover Fairfax detective in a bar not far from his home, the now-defunct Thursday's in Fairfax City.
The detective said in a search warrant affidavit that Culosi told him he was a "bookie," or someone who takes bets on sports. The detective began placing football bets with Culosi, losing about $5,000 over the course of the 2005 season, his affidavit said.
On Jan. 24, 2006, police moved to arrest Culosi. A decision was made to use the tactical, or SWAT, team to detain Culosi while his apartment was searched. Bullock, 41, was one of two officers assigned to arrest Culosi while he met with the detective outside his apartment. Other officers were to handle the search.
According to a report issued by Rohrer in January, Bullock bounded out of his sport-utility vehicle, which was parked behind the detective's, and pulled his .45-caliber pistol out of its holster. But his door "bounced back and jarred him," Rohrer wrote, "causing him to lose his balance."
Bullock fired one round into Culosi's chest, killing him almost immediately. Culosi was not armed.
Rohrer's public report said that using a SWAT team in such a low-risk case -- Culosi never owned a weapon and had no history of violence -- was unnecessary, and that police had developed a "comprehensive risk assessment form" to determine when a SWAT team should be used. He also established a Use of Force Review Committee to examine such incidents.
Bullock has not yet been formally disciplined. Rohrer wants to suspend him for three weeks without pay and remove him from the SWAT team, but Bullock appealed to County Executive Anthony H. Griffin, sources familiar with the case said. Griffin has yet to rule, and Bullock remains on administrative duties.
The FBI is investigating the case. The Culosis noted that the police file has been provided to the FBI, but not to them. An FBI spokeswoman could not provide information on the status of the investigation yesterday.
The lawsuit alleges that police have repeatedly refused to return some of Sal Culosi's property, including his cellphone and the reported $38,000 in cash that was seized in the search after the shooting.
In addition to the claims of wrongful death and civil rights violations, the lawsuit accuses Rohrer of gross negligence for adopting the policies that allowed the SWAT team to be used to arrest a suspected bookie.
DiMuro said: "The Culosis want to know what happened to their son that night, are entitled to know what happened that night and are intent on finding out. And that's one of the primary reasons for the lawsuit."
"Our hope," Culosi's parents said, "is that a jury will hold Fairfax County, Chief Rohrer and Officer Bullock accountable for their unconscionable disregard for Sal's life, his rights and, by inference, the rights of all Fairfax County citizens."