Barrie Masters’ son David died Nov. 13, 2009. A Fairfax County Police officer shot and killed him while he sat, unarmed, and behind the wheel of his car. Last week, more than five years later, Fairfax County Police released the dashboard video from the cruiser of the officer who shot David Masters.
David Masters had allegedly stolen a handful of flowers from a vendor along Route 1 and driven away. The police were called and pursued him to the intersection of Route 1 and Fort Hunt Road, in the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria.
Police cruisers blocked Masters from driving any further. Then officers approached the driver’s side of his Chevrolet Blazer. Officer David Scott Ziants subsequently fired at Masters, still seated in the vehicle.
In a May 6, 2015 statement, current Fairfax County Chief of Police Edwin Roessler recapped: “The involved officer was found to be in administrative violation of the Police Department’s General Order 540.1, Use of Force, and is no longer a member of the Fairfax County Police Department.”
Roessler’s statement briefly provided context for the public release of a video of the incident, taken from the dashboard-mounted camera in a squad car. The video was previously evidence in the internal police investigation.
The Chief’s statement further reads: “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, Nov. 13, 2009. Based on several requests, the video was provided to the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission and is posted here.”
At the April 27 meeting of the commission Connection Newspapers editor and publisher Mary Kimm asked Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F Morrogh if and when such a video would be made available to the public. Morrogh responded he had no problem with its release, but wasn’t in possession of a copy himself.
“In reaching my decision to release the in-car video,” Roessler’s statement continues, “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. I recognize the value of releasing the video to the community we proudly serve.”
Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova called for the creation of the Ad Hoc commission and has sat beside its chairman Michael Hershman at the group’s first two meetings. In a statement she confirmed the video was provided to the commission and added, “Use of force and communications policies are some of the areas the commission will be looking into and I look forward to their recommendations this fall.”
Barrie Masters, who lives in the Sanford area of Florida, said he received a call from Fairfax County Police Internal Affairs informing him the video was going to be released.
Watching the movie and speaking with the media about it, he said, has been extremely difficult.
“I eventually broke down when I was trying to narrate it for Channel 9,” Masters said. “I had to break off the interview, just got incredibly emotional.”
What first stood out to Masters first was “the attitude, if they’re willing to release this after six years where we had no idea this existed, there must be nothing on it.”
At about three minutes into the 13-minute video posted on YouTube, two Fairfax County Police officers approach Masters’ car at a stoplight on Route 1, guns drawn. The officers follow the car off the screen, gunfire rings out in the audio, followed by, “Whoa, whoa! The ---- you doing, dude? Come on!” that some have said was the other officer talking to Ziants.
“I now think there’s a lot on it,” said Barrie Masters. “I now think Ziants clearly intended to kill David.”
Masters said he intends to pursue action against Ziants and then-Chief of Police David M. Rohrer “for what I call ‘hiding evidence’ and anybody else we can bring in.”
Mike Curtis, founder of Northern Virginia Cop Block, the Facebook group Justice for John Geer and vice president of the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, called for the public to “take a more active role policing the police. This video would never have been made public if not for the pressure put on Morrogh at the commission meeting.”
The coalition’s executive director and Mount Vernon resident Nicholas Beltrante believes more of the video may exist than was released.
“The actual filming of the officer raising his gun and firing was not part of it,” Beltrante said, “it was cut off, came to an abrupt end at that point. I’m of the opinion that was intentionally and purposely done.”
Fairfax County Police spokesperson Lucy Caldwell responded to Beltrante’s claim, reporting from Internal Affairs personnel that, “No, it was not edited in that way. That is an untrue statement.”
Beltrante is still critical the police aren’t practicing accountability and transparency.
“Regardless of the age of it,” he said, “it is a classic case of police impropriety: There was a no provocation, no justification for the action of that officer.”
Masters’ father said he can hear Ziants asking the other officer if he also saw Masters pull a gun.
“The bits I have heard are pretty damning,” he said. “I said a lot of this at the time and couldn’t get anyone to listen much. It must need riots in the streets to get attention I guess.”
The full video released by Fairfax County Police can be found on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVX86PsIVDI&feature=youtu.be.