Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability
P.O. Box 7800
Alexandria, Virginia 22307
Mount Vernon Three years ago the Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal by the Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability to form a citizen police oversight board. Instead they agreed with the recommendations of the county executive and police chief to assign responsibility for investigating citizen complaints of alleged misconduct to the county’s independent auditor.
The incentive to establish the citizen police oversight board was in response to the shooting death of Green Beret Vietnam veteran David Masters. In the interim, no independent auditor report has been issued to reveal the results of citizen complaints of alleged police misconduct or past shooting death investigations. On June 3, retired Army Colonel Barrie Masters, the father of the fatal shooting victim, David Masters, sent a letter to Board of Supervisors chairwoman Sharon Bulova, expressing his disappointment that no report on the shooting death of his son was ever made available to him and no citizen police oversight panel was created. He also mentioned the blanket exemption which the police enjoy under the state Freedom of Information Act to any request for police incident reports, including the one about his son.
Barrie Masters wrote: “The police department operates in a culture of complete autonomy without fear that it’s actions will be held up to any kind of scrutiny” and argued in his letter to Bulova that “a citizen’s review board would not only protect the public from unjustified actions by the police, it would protect the police department from unjustified criticism by the public.”
Bulova sent a June 12 reply to Barrie Masters, but instead of explaining the board’s rationale for assigning alleged police misconduct complaints to the board’s independent auditor she referred him to a February 2012 independent auditor report and had nothing else to say in response to his letter. The problem is the independent auditor report does not discuss the investigation of the shooting which killed Barrie Master’s son, the rationale for not adopting a citizen oversight panel, or the outcome of any independent auditor investigations conducted over the two-year period in which the auditor was responsible for follow-up on alleged police misconduct complaints.
Barrie Masters responded to the curt reply in a June 18 letter to Bulova: “It (the June 12 letter) was an attempt to mislead me” and he accused Bulova of actions that are “totally unprofessional.” Masters went on to say in his letter to Bulova, “a report of the police investigation into my son’s death has never been released although clearly misconduct did take place.” Despite the fact that the commonwealth attorney found no wrongdoing in the fatal shooting incident, the police officer who did the shooting was eventually fired, but without comment or explanation.
Masters’ letter also pointed out that the police chief “who was responsible for the non-investigation” has now been promoted to the position of deputy county executive “where I am told he draws a salary of $191,168 per year and a concurrent pension from the police force of $173,000 per year.”
Not mentioned is the county will be hiring a new police chief who will most likely be earning $125,000-plus annually. That would bring the amount of tax money spent for the top two police officers, including the deputy county executive’s police chief retirement pension, to over half a million dollars annually. Masters closed his letter to Bulova with this statement: “I am a retired Army colonel, and I don’t suffer fools gladly. You, Sharon Bulova, have tried to treat me as a fool, and it seems you and [Police Chief] Mr. Rohrer are taking the citizens of Fairfax County for fools. I have tried for three years, unsuccessfully, to get some measure of justice for my son David, and I still plan to reach this objective.”
Nicholas Beltrante, executive director of Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, said: “The citizens of Fairfax County and local, state, and national organizations overwhelmingly support CCPA’s proposal to create a citizen police oversight board reporting to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. In the face of a highly questionable record of police civil rights, they are merely waiting until they have to create such a board; Why? Because the majority of the board have been in office for many years and there has been and continues to be little or no overall police accountability. They are not being held accountable for their failure, in the face of clear and convincing evidence demonstrating a ‘pattern and practice’ including excessive force, demonstrating unlawful conduct of discrimination by the police who violate their own police orders on the use of lethal force.
“While the board in its wisdom has authorized some 85 advisory boards, the one board that would provide citizen oversight and advice on police conduct is nowhere to be seen. After all, low crime rates in an affluent county in the Washington metropolitan region is all the board should ask for. Don’t rock the boat, right? Wrong. Here are a few statistics that should send chills up the spine of those taxpaying county residents that care about police transparency and accountability:
“* 61 civil rights complaints filed with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Feb. 1, 2013 report.
“* Six citizens shot and killed by Fairfax County police that were unarmed. January 2006 – July 2012.
“* No police incident reports released by Fairfax County police in response to any police shooting deaths.”
Beltrante continued: “A citizen police oversight board reporting to the Board of Supervisors should be formed to strengthen police-community relations and promote collaboration between citizens and the police. The big city or county police model of a large hierarchical organization charged with keeping order, being tough on violators, and keeping citizens in the dark and at best in an arms length relationship should give way to a proposal which provides citizens with an independent oversight voice which will promote a relationship of trust between citizens working with our police. This includes but is not limited to investigating citizen complaints with the police, performing collaborative research, analyze police policies and practices, work jointly in community forums, and work toward policies and practices that will protect the rights of all our citizens.
“In my 15 years working on the homicide and robbery squads in Washington, D.C. I only had to use my weapon three times in armed robbery situations. What I have witnessed these past several years in Fairfax County and my investigation of past police shooting actions is we have a police department completely left to its own devices to shoot first and ask questions later. No police officer should be using lethal force on an unarmed person who poses no threat to the police or people in the vicinity of the suspect. This is not a foreign country dictatorship; this is the United States of America.
“The evidence I have compiled cries out for a changed attitude in a county which prides itself on being well managed, has top notch public education, and progressive land use, housing, and health care initiatives, and policies that favor those least able to help themselves. Unfortunately, that is not true when it comes to law enforcement and the evidence of the number of unarmed shooting deaths and volume of civil rights complaints is overwhelming. How many more unnecessary shooting deaths or civil rights complaints will it take before the public and county board wakes up to the facts?”
Beltrante said his group is getting excellent cooperation from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. The department recently forwarded to the CCPA a number of U.S. Civil Rights reports and Consent Decrees ordered by the Federal Courts on other cities and counties with police departments who engaged in similar questionable actions. He indicated that he is using the materials and guidelines provided by the Civil Rights Division in preparation to file a brief on the Fairfax County Police Department for failure to take steps to eliminate the practice of using lethal force when unnecessary, and to be more fair, open, and collaborative with citizens who wish to have a voice in filing civil rights complaints with the county against police actions of alleged misconduct.
According to Beltrante, the civil rights climate in the U.S. and locally is such that failure to address the oversight issue will inevitably lead, as it has in other cities and counties in the U.S., to a federal Consent Decree action by the Justice Department pursuant to the police misconduct provision of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“If citizen police oversight boards are good for Seattle, New Orleans, the District of Columbia, and Prince George’s County, Md. among the 150 citizen oversight organizations now operating in the U.S. today then why wouldn’t it be good for Fairfax County?” Beltrante asked. “What are they hiding? What are they afraid of? Why is the Board of Supervisors refusing to take the necessary steps to protect the rights of all citizens when it comes to police power and authority?”