Few details a month after Fairfax police killed unarmed man

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009; B01

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.

"We can't even go to his grave and mourn for him," said Gail Masters, still tearful a month after Dave Masters's death. On Wednesday, she and her daughter visited the site of his shooting for the first time and placed a bouquet of roses there.

"I know I sit here every day waiting to see him walk in," Gail Masters said, "and hope every morning I wake up that this is a bad dream."

Odd behavior

David Alan Masters was the third of four children born to Barrie and DoloresMasters. His father was also a Green Beret. After Masters graduated from high school in 1975, he married his high school sweetheart in Rhode Island and entered the Army. He was accepted into Special Forces training at Fort Bragg and graduated in 1976. He left the Army and divorced his first wife in 1978, then moved to Northern Virginia to live with his older brother, Barrie Masters Jr.

While selling electronics at J.C. Penney at Fair Oaks Mall, Masters met his second wife, Stephanie Berger of Fairfax City. Masters's first two wives both said he was a physically abusive alcoholic. He racked up so many drunken driving convictions in the 1980s that his license was taken away for several years, court records show, and Berger divorced him in 1990.

But Berger also said Masters underwent rehabilitation in 1990 and became sober. While using his Army training to teach sky diving in Fredericksburg, he met Gail Hubbard and married her in 1992. She and other friends in Fredericksburg said he apparently turned a corner in the 1990s: He never drank, and he never hit her.

Family members said they began noticing odd behavior by Masters in the 1980s, and about 1995, Masters received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, meaning he was given to wild mood swings. Medication generally kept the condition under control, Gail Masters said, but he had periodic dips in autumn.

Masters had been working in landscaping but in the 1990s became a carpenter's apprentice and then a woodworking contractor. In 2007, his right arm was badly mangled in a miter saw accident, ending his carpentry career. And later that year, complications from the accident might have caused him to have a massive heart attack, and doctors implanted a pacemaker and a defibrillator in him.

Gail Masters said she and Masters split up in 2003 and filed for divorce but were back living together when the divorce went through in 2004.

"He said the divorce wasn't real," Gail said. "We had talked about getting back together. I felt like I had to take care of him."

She is not sure why he went to Fairfax on Nov. 13. Sometimes, he went to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, and maybe he was headed that way. Gail started text-messaging him about 2:30 p.m., but by then, he had been dead for an hour. Fairfax homicide detectives delivered the news that night.

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