Witness recounts fatal shooting of driver by Fairfax police

David A. Masters of Fredericksburg was fatally shot by Fairfax police Nov. 13 while in his Chevy Blazer on Route 1 near Fort Hunt Road.
David A. Masters of Fredericksburg was fatally shot by Fairfax police Nov. 13 while in his Chevy Blazer on Route 1 near Fort Hunt Road. (Jahi Chikwendiu/the Washington Post)
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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

An eyewitness to last week's fatal shooting of a motorist by Fairfax County police said that the driver slowly rolled away from officers as they approached his Chevrolet Blazer on Route 1 and that one of the officers then drew his gun and fired three times.

The witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared a backlash from publicity, said driver David A. Masters of Fredericksburg never got out of the Blazer. He said he could not tell whether Masters made any threatening gestures toward the officers. The officers, all on foot, were behind and to the side of the Blazer, the witness said, not in front of it.

Officers said they had stopped Masters near the intersection of Fort Hunt Road in the Huntington area because he had stolen flowers from a Mount Vernon business about 20 minutes earlier.

The Blazer was at the front of a line of traffic stopped at the red light, the witness said. "Next thing I know, I see the vehicle start to roll, and then pop pop pop," the witness said. "It was like he just took his foot off the brake, and off he went."

Fairfax police policy states that "deadly force shall not be employed to apprehend a fleeing misdemeanant."

The policy also says: "Shooting at or from a moving vehicle shall be avoided except to defend an officer's or citizen's life or protect them from serious physical injury or when the escape of a felon will pose an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to an officer or other person. . . . The safety of residents and innocent bystanders is of paramount importance."

The witness said that he was on foot, standing to the left and behind the traffic stop, and estimated he was 300 feet away.

Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said she could not comment on the accuracy of the witness's statement. But she said the case "depends on the threat perceived by the officers at the time they fired and whether that perception was justified."

Police said Wednesday that Masters was unarmed. Jennings said that the full investigation would be thorough and that making statements before it is finished "serves no purpose."

A death certificate released to Masters's family Thursday said that the cause of death was "gunshot wound to left shoulder," said his ex-wife, Gail Masters.

"How is that possible?" she asked. She said the sequence of events related by the eyewitness "doesn't surprise me. He did the same thing the day before in Fredericksburg."

Police in Fredericksburg confirmed that at 11 a.m. on Nov. 12, the day before Masters was killed, he ignored a police officer's signal to pull over after running a red light at the Central Park shopping complex near Interstate 95. Masters then drove at 20 mph as he left Central Park, police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said. The officer followed him for more than a mile before Masters pulled over.

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