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Letter: Where Is County’s Accountability?

To the Editor:

The Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability (CCPA) is a pro-police grassroots citizen activist organization that is dedicated to making our community a better and safer place for all of its citizens.

The CCPA was founded as a Virginia Corporation in 2010 as a direct result of the tragic shooting death of unarmed former U.S. Army Green Beret David A. Masters who was shot and killed by a Fairfax County Police Officer on Richmond Highway and Fort Hunt Road on Nov. 13, 2009. He had allegedly stolen a small handful of flowers from a roadside stand on Richmond Highway. While stopped in traffic, a police officer walked up to Masters' auto, and without provocation, fired his weapon through the left rear window of the car, striking him in the left shoulder causing his immediate death. The official "manner of death" as reported by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas, Va., was "Homicide." The Commonwealth of Virginia Certificate of Death also reads cause of death "Homicide."

Even though the FCPD General Order Number 540.1 specifically states "Deadly Force shall not be employed to apprehend a fleeing misdemeanant," the officer was cleared of misconduct by the FCPD and the Commonwealth's Attorney. Nearly a year later, the officer was "fired" from the department for "improper use of deadly force." A $10 million civil lawsuit is now pending for a "wrongful death" for this questionable act.

Another such tragic event was the accidental shooting of Dr. Salvatore J. Culosi by a member of the FCPD SWAT Team at his home while the police were serving him with an arrest warrant for sports gambling. In recent years, Fairfax County has paid nearly $4 million in court settlement for cases of wrongful death involving shooting deaths of unarmed citizens and a case of negligence by a member of the department. In the entire history of the FCPD no officer has been found guilty in the fatal shooting of an unarmed citizen.

During the years 2010-2011, the CCPA has directed a number of letters to Chief David M. Rohrer regarding these and other citizen allegations of police abuse, misconduct, and negligence. These letters have gone unanswered. As a result the CCPA began in January 2012 mailing letters of complaint to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova with the understanding they would be forwarded to Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland, the Board's Public Safety Committee chairman, for appropriate action. In recent weeks the CCPA has written to Supervisor Hyland in an effort to determine what action, if any, he had taken. To-date, we have not heard from Supervisor Hyland.

The apparent lack of accountability by various entities of the Fairfax County Government regarding these serious issues has caused many citizens grave concern and some have expressed their frustration by indicating their belief this may constitute a case of malfeasance.

A lack of accountability appears to be common in Virginia. The prestigious Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and WDC recently reported its findings from its national "corruption risk report card" that includes (1) Public Access to Information (2) Executive Accountability (3) Judicial Accountability (4) Internal Auditing and other factors. Virginia ranked 47 among the 50 states with an overall grade of "F." Virginia ranks near the bottom on the state integrity index.

The Citizens of Fairfax County and the Commonwealth of Virginia deserve better than this.

To contact the CCPA by email: virginiaccpa@aol.com.

Nicholas R. Beltrante

Executive Director Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability