Fairfax police refuse information to father of police shooting victim David Masters
Where Sharon "Show me the money" on this? Where's the board of supervisors on this?
By Tom Jackman July 28
A request by the father of David A. Masters, the unarmed motorist shot and killed by a Fairfax County police officer in 2009, to see the investigative files and learn why the shooting happened has been denied by Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler. Roessler said that since there is no statute of limitations on murder or manslaughter, he will not release the information and cited the clause in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act that Fairfax police use to deny FOIA requests for crime reports in virtually every case, according to areport issued last week by a committee studying Fairfax police communications.
But there is no statute of limitations on any felony in Virginia, giving Fairfax police justification to deny all felony crime report requests forever. And Roessler’s denial letter, received Monday by Masters’ father, retired Army colonel Barrie Masters of Sanford, Fla., gives no indication that the Fairfax police ever intend to change their policy of refusing access to police reports in officer-involved shootings, instead discussing “review by an independent auditor” and “a higher level of accountability for all.”
Masters, 52, was shot as he drove away from Officer David S. Ziants on Route 1 in the Alexandria area of Fairfax on Nov. 13, 2009. Ziants was not charged with a crime because he believed, mistakenly, that Masters was reaching for a gun, was driving a stolen vehicle and had run over another officer, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said in January 2010. But Ziants was fired for violating the department’s use of deadly force policy.
But unlike the police shootings of Salvatore Culosi Jr. in 2006 and John B. Geer in 2013, there was no civil suit to force Fairfax police to release information about the Masters case. Masters had named his ex-wife and stepdaughter as the executors of his estate, but under Virginia law they were not entitled to recover any damages since they were not his legal family, though they were his daily companions and closest friends. Masters’ brother-in-law attempted to file a suit anyway in 2011, but it went nowhere.
Meanwhile, Masters’ father watched from a distance, his anger slowly burning. Then in May of this year, Roessler suddenly released an in-car video camera tape of Ziants hustling up to Masters’ vehicle and then firing shots just out of camera range, while another officer screams at him to stop shooting. This outraged Barrie Masters, who earlier this month sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the police seeking everything related to the case.
In the letter below, Roessler denied access to everything. “In an effort to provide transparency to you on the internal administrative investigation,” Roessler wrote, “the Police Department terminated Officer Ziants’ employment on March 24, 2011.” This was publicly reported by The Post in June 2011, though a police spokeswoman then said Ziants had been fired on May 6, 2011.
Roessler goes on to discuss that his department has been working with the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission “to hopefully develop a process of increasing transparency in many areas including those of officer-involved shooting cases.” The chief explains that he hopes to create a review process so that the investigations are thorough and that once a case is completely resolved, it could be reviewed by an independent auditor. He does not mention ever making any investigative documents publicly available.
Roessler’s letter, dated Friday, was written a day after he was asked by The Post about releasing police reports and said, “I’m considering a change. There’s got to be more dialogue about how we respond to this. This is a national dialogue, and the profession needs to change. I need to help this department change. This is the community’s voice and I need to actively listen and implement where I can.”
Barrie Masters responded in an e-mail to Roessler Monday night that his use of the FOIA exemption for “criminal investigative files” is something “You and your associates have hidden behind this assertion for almost 6 years now, and of course, you well know that the current law does not say the information requested is exempt from release only that it can be released at the discretion of the custodian. Your own Police Practices Review Commission, Communications Subcommittee, (which I fully support) has recommended you end the blanket approach to suppressing information under the excuse of your own interpretation of 2.2-3706 (2) and move toward the timely release of all criminal investigative information..It is time that Fairfax County Government and Fairfax County Law Enforcement join the rest of the Nation in advocating transparency.”
Here is Roessler’s letter denying Masters’ FOIA request:
Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.