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Posted: 2/3/2006 9:09:53 AM EDT
Brings up some interesting things:

Should SWAT teams be serving warrants on low level, non-violent citizens?

Should it be full armor, weapons pointed at a citizen who is having a warrant served on them?

Or has the militarization of the police gone too far?

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012602136.html

SWAT Tactics at Issue After Fairfax Shooting

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2006; Page B01

Salvatore J. Culosi Sr. still can't believe his son, a 37-year-old optometrist, was a suspected sports bookie. He can't believe a heavily armed SWAT team fatally shot his unarmed son, Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., outside his Fair Oaks home Tuesday night.

And Culosi can't believe that the SWAT team's sudden descent on his son, apparently causing one officer to accidentally fire a .45-caliber handgun once into his son's chest, is standard procedure for Fairfax County police conducting a search.

Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., a Fairfax County optometrist suspected of being a sports bookie, was accidentally shot by Fairfax County police, officials say. (Family Photo - Family Photo)

"We are outraged that current police protocol would ever allow something like this to happen," Culosi, 63, said last night. "The fact is that there was zero basis whatsoever for the officers involved to have any weapons drawn in this situation."

Culosi added: "Sal was alone and unarmed. He was compliant with police instructions. He made no threatening movements or gestures. There was no risk of harm to anyone. Anyone, that is, except Sal."

A Fairfax police detective had been making sports bets with Culosi for three months, court records show, and on Tuesday night police planned to arrest Culosi and search his townhouse on Cavalier Landing Court. But Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer said a 17-year police veteran with long experience in the tactical unit accidentally fired his gun, killing Culosi.

The officer was not named, and police could not say why his gun went off.

Although police and firearms authorities were divided yesterday on whether SWAT teams are needed for most search warrants, as is Fairfax's practice, they agreed on another point: Officers carrying guns should not aim directly at anyone or have their fingers on the trigger until they are absolutely ready to fire.


"In my opinion, there are no accidental discharges," said John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. Gnagey was not familiar with the Fairfax case but said that in general, "Most of what we see in law enforcement are negligent discharges, fingers being on the trigger when they shouldn't be."

Gnagey was in the camp that thought "SWAT teams shouldn't be doing all warrants." But once there, "the weapons are not pointed at anybody."

Fairfax police declined to discuss their tactical unit policies. But police officials acknowledged that the tactical team, using bulletproof vests, high-powered weapons and other police tools, serves nearly all of the warrants after an investigation has found probable cause to seize evidence -- whether it is bloody clothes, weapons or documents.

In Culosi's case, police were looking for records they suspected he kept after undercover Detective David J. Baucom spent three months placing bets with him on NFL games, according to Baucom's affidavit for the search warrant. A document filed yesterday by Baucom indicates that police entered Culosi's townhouse at 10:13 p.m. Tuesday, about 40 minutes after the fatal shooting.

Police found betting slips, currency, "suspected cocaine" and an unspecified amount of "U.S. currency," according to Baucom's "Inventory of Seized Property." Sources close to the investigation said that police found $38,000 cash in Culosi's home and that the suspected cocaine was a small amount.

Though most Fairfax officers are issued 9mm handguns, tactical unit officers sometimes are issued more powerful weapons. Police confirmed yesterday that Culosi, who graduated from Bishop O'Connell High School and the University of Virginia, was shot with a .45-caliber pistol made by Heckler & Koch, a larger weapon that authorities said would not have a trigger that could be easily tripped.

"It's a very safe gun," said David Yates, a local firearms trainer and range safety officer. "Very high quality. Not a hair trigger. Very reliable. Very accurate."

Yates said there were two possible reasons why Culosi was shot: "Ignorance and carelessness." And because police said the officer was highly trained, he couldn't have been ignorant of gun-safety procedures, Yates said.

"We're looking at this with the benefit of hindsight," Yates said. "But it's not an accident."


Stuart A. Meyers, head of OpTac International, which trains police and counterterrorism tactical squads worldwide, said threat assessments should be done before search warrants are served. But because SWAT officers are better trained and equipped, Meyers said, "SWAT teams should serve, in our opinion, almost all search warrants with the exception of document searches and low-level search warrants."

Gnagey said tactical teams should be used only when police have reason to suspect danger. But some noted that sports bookmakers often deal in cash and might be expected to carry a gun to defend themselves against criminals, if not police.

Meyers and others said SWAT officers should have their guns drawn and ready, "but your finger shouldn't be on the trigger unless you're preparing to shoot someone."

Culosi's father said Fairfax police protocol of serving warrants with weapons drawn "should scare and frighten everyone. Such protocol needs to be immediately changed, or an accident like this will happen again."



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