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Man fatally shot by Fairfax police was ex-Green Beret

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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A man who was fatally shot by Fairfax County police Friday was a former Green Beret who was suspected of stealing flowers from outside a Route 1 business shortly before he was killed.

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David A. Masters, 52, of Fredericksburg also suffered from bipolar disorder and did not own a gun, said his ex-wife, Gail Masters. He was driving his green Chevrolet Blazer north on Route 1 near the entrance to the Capital Beltway when he declined to pull over for officers, police said. He was shot at least once while sitting in the Blazer in heavy traffic.

Fairfax police would not say Monday whether Masters did anything to threaten the officers, whether he had a gun or whether he had the stolen flowers in his Blazer. Police said the officer who shot Masters, a 26-year-old with six years on the force, had hired a lawyer and was refusing to speak with investigators. They declined to identify the officer.

That officer and two others, a 27-year-old with three years of experience and a 38-year-old with 15 years of experience, were placed on administrative leave with pay. Fairfax, unlike most departments in the Washington area, does not release the names of officers involved in shootings. Chief David M. Rohrer did not respond to a request for comment, and police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said Rohrer could not discuss the case because he will be ruling on the officers' possible internal disciplinary cases.

Masters was a cabinet-maker and woodworker who had his own business in Fredericksburg with his ex-wife until a bad accident in 2006 damaged his arm and prevented him from working. In 2007, Masters had a severe heart attack, underwent quadruple bypass surgery and had a pacemaker installed, Gail Masters said.

"He was my best friend," she said. They saw each other every day, even after they divorced in 2004, after 12 years of marriage. "He could get along with everybody. If you needed something, he'd give it to you," she said.

Masters was the son of an Army officer and traveled the country growing up, his family said. He was born in Washington state, went to high school in Rhode Island and served in the Green Berets in the mid-1970s, Gail Masters said. In recent years, he'd had a series of minor run-ins with police, including drunken driving arrests, and an incident last year in which he walked into a Fredericksburg bank and declared that he was a federal agent. He was charged with misdemeanor impersonation of a law enforcement officer and placed on probation.

On Thursday, the day before the shooting, he allegedly ran through a red light in Fredericksburg and then did not stop for the police, according to court records. He was pulled over and charged with recklessly eluding police and running a red light.

The next day, Masters apparently pulled up outside E.P. Mowing & Landscaping on Route 1 in the Mount Vernon area. Mike Pisfil, 21, looked out the window and saw the green Blazer, then saw a man pulling large red Peruvian flowers, called pompos, out of a black planter outside the office.

The flowers were each at least four feet high, Pisfil said, and the man's arms were black with potting soil from ripping them out of the planter. Pisfil said he asked the man, "What are you doing?" The man said, "I thought no one was here."

Pisfil said the man tossed the last of 10 flower plants inside the Blazer, dunked his hands in a nearby vase filled with rainwater, briefly raised his fists to threaten another employee, then hopped in the Blazer and drove off.

That was at 1:05 p.m., Pisfil and police said. Pisfil jotted down the Blazer's license plate number -- "F001," which looks like the word "fool" -- and called 911. An officer stopped by to confirm the details, Pisfil said. "The whole thing was very odd," Pisfil said.

About 20 minutes later, officers spotted the Blazer near the Huntington Avenue intersection and signaled for it to pull over, said Officer Don Gotthardt, a spokesman. The Blazer began to pull over, but then took off again, but not at a high speed because traffic was heavy, Gotthardt said. "He literally was not able to go anywhere," Gotthardt said.

Just before the intersection with Fort Hunt Road, Masters was shot. The Blazer headed through the intersection and collided with another car.

Gotthardt said three officers were present, and none of them had been interviewed by detectives. Gail Masters said police told her that her ex-husband had opened his jacket while sitting in the driver's seat and that the officer might have thought he was reaching for a weapon. "He didn't deserve to get shot for that," she said.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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