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Fairfax County police release video in 2009 officer involved shooting

Fairfax County police Officer David S. Ziants, left, and an unidentified Fairfax officer approach a green Chevrolet Blazer, right, seconds before Ziants shot and killed the unarmed driver, David Masters. (Fairfax County Police Department dashboard video)
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Note: This post has been updated to edit the video and add the comments of Masters’ father and ex-wife.

David Masters of Fredericksburg was shot and killed by Fairfax County police Officer David Scott Ziants on Nov. 13, 2009, as Masters drove on Route 1 in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County. Masters was unarmed and had ripped some flowers out of a planter in front of a business, which led to the police pursuit.

On Wednesday, the Fairfax police released the dash cam video from Ziants’s car. The actual shooting is not visible, but the sounds of the shots can be heard (at 1:49), followed by another officer apparently telling Ziants, “What are you doing? Hold up! Whoa! Hold up! The —- you doing dude? Come on.”

On Wednesday, Fairfax County police released dash cam footage of the 2009 chase of David Masters, which ended in him being fatally shot by police. (Video: YouTube/Fairfax County Government)

Fairfax police did not explain why they chose today, more than five years later, to release the video. In March, the police rejected a freedom of information act request from The Washington Post to allow a review of the investigative file in the case, also without explanation. In Virginia, law enforcement agencies may release, or withhold, any investigative information under state public information law, indefinitely.

[The circumstances leading up to the death of David Masters on Route 1.]

In a statement accompanying the release, Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler said: “In an effort to continue with increasing our transparency and the public trust, I have exercised my discretion under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by authorizing the release of the in-car video from the criminal investigation into the officer-involved shooting of David Masters that occurred in the Mount Vernon District on Friday, November 13, 2009. Based on several requests, the video was provided to the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and is posted here. In reaching my decision to release the in-car video, I considered the following factors:  the local criminal investigation has been completed; the U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation has been completed; and there is no pending or threatened civil litigation.”

Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh ruled in January 2010 that Ziants had not committed a crime, because Ziants believed that Masters was driving a stolen car, was reaching for a gun and had run over another officer, none of which was true. Ziants was allowed to remain on the force until May 2011, when then-Chief David M. Rohrer fired Ziants.

Barrie Masters, 83, said the Fairfax police sent him a link to watch the video, and “I am really distraught. It’s totally wiped me out.” He asked, “How can we live in a world where a cop can just come up behind somebody, no matter what he thinks has been going on, and just shoot him in the back?”

Barrie Masters, a former Army colonel now living in Florida, said, “The fact is, if David committed a crime, the most it was was a misdemeanor for five dollars worth of flowers. The [police] regulations specifically prohibit the use of deadly force.” Masters said he was still hopeful that a special prosecutor might be empaneled to investigate and charge Ziants.

Gail Masters, who was David Masters’s ex-wife and remained his best friend and caretaker, was devastated again Wednesday after seeing the video. Fairfax police did not contact her, though she is the executor of his estate.

“I’m still miserable,” she said. “I’ve been praying that they would charge him [Ziants]. It’s not fair that he’s out there having a good time and Dave’s gone. I haven’t been myself since it happened. It’s just like they say, a part of you leaves and doesn’t come back.”

David Masters was 52, a former Army Green Beret and carpenter living on disability payments after a work accident, and had bipolar disorder, his ex-wife said. He was driving a blue-green Chevrolet Blazer with the license plate “F001” up Route 1 from Fredericksburg when he apparently pulled over outside a landscaping business and ripped some flowers out of some planters. An employee confronted him, but Masters hopped in the Blazer, with several of his ex-wife’s puppies inside, and continued north.

The landscaping employee called police. As Masters headed north on Route 1, Ziants spotted him. Ziants, then 26 and a former Army soldier, told police that he confused Ziants’ vehicle with another vehicle wanted in a stolen car case, Morrogh said in 2010. The video shows Ziants turning on his lights and siren and pursuing Masters for about a mile up the highway, with Masters at one point running a red light, then squeezing through stopped cars at another intersection, refusing to stop for the officer.

Finally at Fort Hunt Road, another Fairfax cruiser blocks Masters’ Blazer in. Ziants and two other officers approach the car. But the light turns green and the Blazer starts to pull away. Ziants yells for the Blazer to stop, while another officer appears to tell him, “No no no no.” Then, two shots, while the other officer loudly implores him to stop firing.