No charges for Fairfax County officer who killed unarmed man
The Fairfax County police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man on Route 1 in November will not be charged with a crime, the Fairfax commonwealth's attorney said Wednesday.
The officer's name was not released. Police said he was 26 years old and a six-year veteran when he shot and killed David A. Masters, 52, as Masters sat behind the wheel of his Chevrolet Blazer near the intersection of Fort Hunt Road, just south of the Capital Beltway.
Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said the officer was responding to a furtive gesture that suggested Masters may have had a weapon.
In the 70-year history of the Fairfax County police, no officer has ever been charged with a crime for shooting someone in the line of duty. Former Fairfax commonwealth's attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who cleared numerous officers of wrongdoing in his 40 years as the county prosecutor, often said the lack of charges reflected the professionalism and good training of the Fairfax police.
Fairfax County Police Chief David M. Rohrer said in a statement that the department's internal review would proceed. "We remain steadfastly committed to a thorough investigation of the incident and the policies and procedures involved," the statement said.
A department news release issued late Wednesday said Masters disregarded police lights and sirens and kept driving, and that he continued to ignore repeated verbal commands from officers attempting to stop the car. "The officer saw a fellow officer spin away from Masters' car and disappear from view and believed that officer had been struck by the car," the news release said. "As he approached the car with his weapon drawn, the officer saw Masters making furtive movements with his left hand and believed he was trying to reach for a weapon. The officer fired two shots. One struck Masters' left shoulder, transected his body and was recovered from his right side. One grazed Masters' left shoulder."
Masters was a former Green Beret, a carpenter who was disabled by injury, and he suffered from bipolar disorder. On the day before he was shot to death, Masters had refused to stop for a Fredericksburg officer after running a red light at the Central Park shopping mall. But the officer in that case simply followed Masters, who drove slowly, for more than a mile before pulling him over and giving him two tickets.
Masters had lived in Fredericksburg for the past 20 years and spent much of his time with his third ex-wife, Gail Masters, and his stepdaughter, Courtney Hubbard. He had Gail Masters's cellphone, one of her credit cards and one of her dogs with him when he was killed, and in a 2007 will he named his ex-wife and stepdaughter as the executors of his estate.
Masters was wanted by Fairfax police for allegedly ripping some flowers out of a planter outside a Hybla Valley business on the afternoon of Nov. 13. An employee there took down the vanity license plate of the Blazer -- "FOO1," which looks like "fool" -- and phoned in the bizarre episode to police shortly after 1 p.m.
About 20 minutes later, officers spotted the Blazer several miles farther up Route 1. Three officers pulled up behind the vehicle near the intersection with Fort Hunt Road, then got out of their cars and began approaching on foot, police have said.
A witness said the Blazer started to roll slowly away from the officers, through the intersection, as if making a lethargic escape. The witness said one officer opened fire.
A large bullet hole could be seen in the left rear window of the Blazer. Masters was pulled out of the car, paramedics arrived and rushed him to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, but Masters died. His death certificate states he was killed by a "gunshot wound to the left shoulder."
Police had numerous witnesses to the shooting, in adjacent cars at the busy intersection and in a nearby office tower.
Morrogh's ruling may be the end of any legal proceedings related to Masters's death.
Survivors in addition to his ex-wife and stepdaughter in Fredericksburg are his mother and sister in Manassas, his father in Florida, a brother in Rhode Island and a half sister in Georgia. Under Virginia law, they are the only people who are legal beneficiaries of a wrongful-death suit. But because they were not named in his will as his personal representative, they are not authorized to file suit.
Lawyer Jon E. Shields, the husband of Masters's sister, has said he believes the family members may still be able to establish their legal standing. Shields met with Morrogh on Wednesday morning to learn of the prosecutor's ruling.