Few details a month after Fairfax police killed unarmed man

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009

Every fall, it seemed, Dave Masters's mental illness rose up and grabbed him for a little while.

Last December, he walked into a bank near Fredericksburg, said he was a federal agent and began reading customers their Miranda rights. Masters told a sheriff's deputy that the bank manager had drugged his coffee.

Last month, after running a red light in Fredericksburg, he ignored a police officer's flashing lights and drove for more than a mile -- at 20 mph -- before pulling over. That night, he bought his ex-wife, who was also his best friend, a carton of cigarettes -- and 100 pounds of fish food in two giant bags.

The next day, he drove 50 miles from his $3,600 trailer in Fredericksburg, stopped outside a landscaping business in Fairfax County and pulled a bunch of tall flowers out of a planter. A few minutes later, the police spotted him and signaled to him to pull over. At Route 1 and Fort Hunt Road, he stopped, and the officers got out of their car.

And then, perhaps, Masters did something. The Fairfax police won't say what. A furtive gesture? A yell? And a Fairfax officer shot through Masters's rear passenger window and killed the unarmed man as he sat in his Chevrolet Blazer.

One month after the former Green Beret and disabled carpenter was slain, Fairfax police have not publicly said why Masters, 52, was shot in the middle of a busy intersection on the gray afternoon of Friday the 13th in November. They won't say who fired the shots, what Masters did to provoke the shooting, how many shots were fired or what the many witnesses at the intersection told them they saw.

"That's all part of the investigation, which is ongoing," said Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings. The officer who fired, a 26-year-old man with six years' experience, remains on restricted duty, she said.

Fairfax homicide detectives have been providing witness statements and other investigative reports to Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, who will decide whether to charge the officer. No Fairfax officer has been charged for an on-duty shooting, which requires prosecutors to prove the act was of a "wanton or willful nature" with "reckless or indifferent disregard of the rights of others," according to Virginia law.

A complicated life

The investigative reports are not likely to mention the colorful life and times of David Masters, which include three marriages, service in the Army's elite Special Forces, a young adulthood of hard drinking and domestic violence followed by 19 years of sobriety, and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He was a sky-diving instructor. A landscaper. An animal lover. A carpenter.

Masters also was estranged from part of his family, according to his ex-wife, Gail Masters, whom he saw daily. That might complicate or negate a possible wrongful death suit against Fairfax County. Since the shooting, his parents and siblings have declined repeated requests to discuss him. But on Thursday night, they issued a written statement detailing Masters's biography and saying they loved him. "Above all David was a human being," the statement said. "He did not deserve to be gunned down on the streets of Fairfax. His family will miss him."

He saw his sister and mother, who both live in Manassas, sporadically, Gail Masters said. In 2007, he prepared a will that named his 21-year-old stepdaughter and his ex-wife as the beneficiaries and executors of his estate. He had raised his stepdaughter, Courtney, since she was a toddler and remained close to her and her mother after their divorce. Several days after the shooting, Gail Masters and Masters's sister, Joyce Masters Shields, had a confrontation outside his trailer, and police were called.

On Nov. 23, Shields held a sparsely attended funeral for her brother in Manassas and declined to tell some of his friends, including his ex-wife, where it was, according to two people who attended the funeral. Shields then had him cremated, according to the death certificate and funeral officials. Gail Masters said she still has not learned the location of his remains. On Thursday, Dave Masters's estate received a bill for $4,300, and that's how Gail Masters found out that he had been cremated.

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