One of the Culosi family’s favorite pictures of their son Salvatore was taken upon his graduation from optometry school at the Southern College of Optometry. He looks proud in the picture, said sister Constance Culosi Gulley, and genuinely happy.
It is a fitting picture, since Culosi, 37, is described by his sister as a warm and caring man who touched many lives.
"Anybody who was ever around him enjoyed his company," said Gulley. "Nobody had a bad word to say about him … people were drawn to him."
Culosi, an optometrist who lived in the Fair Oaks area of Fairfax, died Tuesday, Jan. 24 at Inova Fairfax Hospital after being shot in the chest by a Fairfax County Police officer during an investigation into a possible illegal gambling operation. According to a Fairfax County Police Department press release, detectives from the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division were serving a search warrant on Culosi’s household along with members of the Tactical Unit. Police spokesperson Officer Rich Henry said that around 9:35 p.m. Tuesday, Culosi left his townhouse in the 11600 block of Cavalier Landing Court and walked toward an undercover officer parked in the SUV out front. As he approached the car, said Henry, the tactical unit team advanced.
One of the officers unintentionally fired his weapon, a Heckler and Koch .45-caliber rifle, and shot Culosi in the upper body, said Henry.
Culosi was suspected of placing illegal bets on professional football games, the police press release stated. According to an affidavit for the Jan. 24 search warrant, Culosi met undercover officer David Baucom in October, while watching Monday Night Football at Thursday’s Bar & Grill in Fairfax. After telling Baucom he was a bookie, said the affidavit,
Culosi began placing and collecting sports bets with Baucom. From October to January, the affidavit said, the detective and Culosi met on at least six different occasions to exchange money for gambling debts. In all, it said, Baucom placed over $28,000 in illegal sports bets with Culosi.
Gulley said she could not understand why her brother was shot. He was unarmed and nonviolent, she said.
"I know gambling’s not something you should be doing," she said. "But it just doesn’t make sense."
OFFICERS DID NOT KNOW THAT Culosi was unarmed and alone, said Henry. But a large amount of money had exchanged hands, he said, and Organized Crime and Narcotics officers frequently work with the tactical unit in their investigations. In fact, he said, it is not uncommon for Fairfax County Police to use the tactical unit when they serve search warrants.
"It’s not unusual for officers to have their gun out, just to have it," Henry said. The officer who shot Culosi was a 17-year member of the police department and has been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.
"We also acknowledge and accept that we have a responsibility to Mr. Culosi’s family, to the community, and to our officers to conduct a comprehensive, balanced, and fair investigation and we are committed to performing that responsibility," said Fairfax County Police Chief Col. David Rohrer in a statement. "I pledge that we will fully review, as always, our policies, practices and this operation in detail."
CULOSI ATTENDED high school at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, said Gulley. He attended college at the University of Virginia and, in 2000, graduated from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. Tenn. He was a respected member of the community, she said, who operated practices in Manassas and Warrenton.
Gulley said her brother was funny and friendly, and a great uncle to her three daughters. An avid soccer player and Pittsburgh Steelers fan, she said, Culosi was very much looking forward to watching the Steelers play the Seattle Seahawks in the upcoming Super Bowl.
"He was a great person, a likeable fellow," she said. "We’re all going to miss him."
Culosi is survived by parents Salvatore and Anita Culosi, brother Christopher Culosi, and sisters Gulley and Cynthia Sauer.