On Tuesday, September 12th, we attended a forum at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. on the growing use of SWAT teams across America. The speakers were Radley Balko of the CATO Institute who briefly summarized his book Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America and retired police chief Norm Stamper, author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of Policing. The forum and its content were advertised on the Radley Balko website. Since our son was unjustly shot and killed, this website is among those we search daily for anything that might shed light on what is happening in our society that allows for police to treat citizens as enemies rather than those they are sworn to protect and serve.
We believe that Mr. Balko has taken a particular interest in our son’s tragic killing because it provides yet another example of how excessive use of force and mismanagement of a SWAT team was applied in an unwarranted situation. The result was an outrageously egregious act of gross negligence by a FCPD’s veteran SWAT officer who shot and killed our son. Oftentimes Mr. Balko’s writings cite our Salvatore’s inexcusable shooting and killing as the incredulous act that it was and is and we had wanted to e-mail Mr. Balko to thank him for keeping Sal’s name in the public arena. Unfortunately our focus was diverted while we waited for the Fairfax County Chief of Police to comply with the request made of him by the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to provide us with an estimated timetable for completing their investigation. To our regret neither goal was realized.
As soon as Radley Balko’s column announced the CATO forum on this most important topic, we felt compelled to attend. Our primary focus was to meet Mr. Balko and personally thank him for his interest in our tragedy. We knew he would be intelligent, but his sincerity, compassion, decency and energy were also very apparent. He is very much like our son Salvatore. His book is very worthwhile reading and his talk was informative and enlightening. We ask that you visit the Radley Balko site and become aware of what is happening in our backyards or we will be destined to sleep walk until we are awakened by an overwhelming and unnecessary nightmare.
We also met Norm Stamper, a gracious, retired police chief and author of Breaking Rank, whose experience and humanity was evident from his proposals for police training. We were particularly taken by his sensitivity to the community the police are charged with serving and protecting. He proposes training that would ensure police officers properly use the authority of their badge and lethal weapons in a disciplined way with the utmost regard for all human life. He related the success he has had in this regard with mock raids/arrests where police trainees are “setup” as objects of the arrest but the arresting team is unaware of the “setup.” This type of training helps to humanize police officers so that they may experience what it is like to be on the receiving end of a raid/arrest by police that are wielding a lethal weapon that is pointed at you. It was a very insightful and thought provoking session.
During the question and answer period, we asked Chief Stamper if he would endorse immediate mandatory drug testing for all officers involved in any shooting. He indicated that he would support such a policy and expanded by saying that taking some blood to test for substances that could impede performance did not seem unreasonable because it helps to clarify and either dismiss or substantiate any questions about the circumstances of the shooting. Since we do not know if the FCPD has such a “testing policy” for its officers involved in shootings, we could only hope they will soon adopt such a policy, if they have not already done so.
Every life is precious and we must treat each situation individually, particularly when there is no evidence of a victim having a criminal record, ever owning a weapon or demonstrating violent behavior. The use of SWAT teams when there is no imminent threat is not only very bad policy but is also a wasteful allocation of scarce police resources intended for other menacing threats and terrorism as it may appear in our communities. Without clear, sensible policies and a Civilian Complaint Review Board, there is usually no true accountability or the transparency that grieving families should expect to receive. When the law is applied in one manner to the citizens of Fairfax and differently to Fairfax police, credibility as well as justice is sacrificed.
The fact is that any accidental shooting of anyone by a civilian would normally result in some sort of criminal/manslaughter charge. However, there are apparently different rules if the shooter is a police officer. After a supposedly thorough investigation, the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney concluded on one single point; that is, there was no malfunction of the weapon used by the SWAT officer who shot and killed our son. He then attributed tiredness…, no malice intended…and the lack of a negligent homicide law in the Commonwealth of Virginia as reasons for not pursuing criminal charges against the officer. “His conclusion” has circumvented a grand jury’s knowledge, review and determination of the facts.
On what basis should anyone believe that the person doing the shooting had no malice? “Malice” means the desire to cause injury or distress to another. The first principle of handling a weapon is to NEVER POINT A LOADED WEAPON AT ANYONE YOU DO NOT INTEND TO SHOOT. Are we to accept that in the serving of a document search warrant a SWAT officer who has a weapon drawn, pointed at the vital area of another human being, has his finger on the trigger and then pulls that trigger had no intention of shooting or, at least, causing injury to that person? Then what…? A veteran SWAT officer confronting a non-threatening person by pointing and shooting a paramilitary weapon , loaded with bullets that are designed to make no exit wound so as to cause the most catastrophic internal injuries in order to STOP a person cold should be well aware of the results his actions can cause. He knows the capabilities of weapons and bullets. This is deadly force. No malice…. then perhaps a cold-blooded disregard for life?
It is now approaching nine months since our (non-violent, compliant, unarmed, never owning a weapon, in his stocking feet) son was shot and killed by a SWAT officer of the Fairfax County Police Department… We still have not been informed about the disposition of that officer whose negligence in the use of his weapon ended our son’s life nor has his name been officially released by the FCPD. Something is terribly wrong and still must be addressed.
We speak of JUSTICE…for our son there wasn’t any and there will never be a justifiable reason for this to have happened to him… The Officer, the FCPD, the Rules and Protocols, the Commonwealth Law, and the ability to have one person circumvent a Grand Jury involvement… these are the persons and issues that demand JUSTICE BE SERVED. Without accountability, transparency, challenge and change, every citizen of Fairfax County could be subjected to the same set of rules that allow for approaching any of us, for whatever reasons permissible, in the very same manner, and resulting in the same tragic ending.
We anxiously wait for FBI inquires to be completed and being apprised of their findings as we prepare to take the next steps in seeking justice on behalf of our beloved son Salvatore...and, in truth, for all of us.
Sal and Anita
Proud Parents of Dr. Salvatore J. Culosi