Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Via Radley Balko comes this frightening story of a legal system out of control:

Fairfax County’s police chief said yesterday that one of his officers accidentally shot and killed an optometrist outside the unarmed man’s townhouse Tuesday night as an undercover detective was about to arrest him on suspicion of gambling on sports.

Police had been secretly making bets with Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., 37, since October as part of a gambling investigation, according to court records. They planned to search his home in the Fair Oaks area, just off Lee Highway, shortly after 9:30 p.m.

Culosi came out of his townhouse on Cavalier Landing Court about 9:35 p.m. and was standing next to the detective’s sport-utility vehicle, police said, when the detective gave a signal to tactical officers assembled nearby to move in and arrest Culosi.

“As they approached him…one officer’s weapon, a handgun, was unintentionally discharged,” said Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer…

Culosi was not making any threatening moves when he was shot once in the upper part of his body, police said. He was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he was pronounced dead…

Perez said Culosi had not displayed a weapon or shown any violent tendencies while he was being investigated by Baucom. But Perez said police had to be prepared for any possibility, because “the unexpected can occur.”

Let me get this straight. They sent in a SWAT team with guns drawn to arrest an optometrist who had been gambling with his own money? For the “crime” of placing bets with people he thought were his friends. The “unexpected” that occured in this case is that the police ended the life of a man who had nothing whatsoever to hurt anyone else. Is there any form of life lower than a vice cop? Their only job is to make sure no one is actually having fun and enjoying their freedom as an adult in ways others don’t approve of.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Paris
    January 26, 2006

    Since when did it become highest priority for the police first to protect themselves? I don’t want any police officers hurt, and I know they sometimes deal with some pretty dangerous characters. But, still, what is that “serve and protect” you see on their cars supposed to mean?

    Not to mention what this incident says about their firearms training.

  2. #2 spyder
    January 26, 2006

    “As they approached him…one officer’s weapon, a handgun, was unintentionally discharged,”

    These needs some pondering. It takes precision shooting to kill a person with a single shot. Officers, especially tactical officers, practice hours upon hours to be skilled to this level, and yet, carry weapons that have 14 or more rounds; just in case?? I remember in my early handgun training days (i have my Navy medal for expert marksmanship in multiple weapons) we were taught that you should only need one round to bring down a target. Therefore it is inconceivable that the discharge was “unintentional.” We have cops killing kids who hold airsoft pistols, cops killing unarmed gamblers, cops killing family members who lived next door. I think we are being sent a message in this country that authority will use whatever force necessary to coerce obedience in the future.

  3. #3 BG
    January 26, 2006

    To be fair, he likely wasn’t “gambling with his own money.” In order to accept, as the article assumed, $100K+ on a weekend’s worth of sports action, he’s either got to have a huge bankroll himself to absorb the variance (even tinkering with the lines all week to put yourself in the middle with pure vig profit doesn’t always work), or be connected with someone bigger backing the action. This isn’t some Average Joe betting $100 on the Super Bowl, this guy probably could have been a valuable resource (being a “legitimate businessman” / member of the community and all) to nail some of the big players in illegal bookmaking.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    January 26, 2006

    BG-

    The article says that since October, the guy had bet $28,000 on NFL games and that the cop had lost $5500 to him. That’s better a couple grand a week or thereabouts on games, or just over $100 per game if he bet them all. Is that a lot to bet? Sure. Is it a crime? Absolutely not. Personally, I don’t care how large the bets are, this is not a crime. If I go out on a golf course with a buddy and we bet $10 a stroke on who gets the best score (not that I would do that given how badly I golf; my buddy would have to be Stephen Hawking for me to make that bet), how is this anyone’s business but ours? If Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan go out on the course and bet $10,000 a stroke or $100,000 a stroke, that’s still nobody’s business but theirs. They certainly don’t deserve to have a SWAT team surround them with guns drawn.

  5. #5 Carpundit
    January 26, 2006

    Ed, I wrote about this as well at my site.

    I understand and share your upset at the unnecessary death, but I think you’ve got two things wrong:

    1. The shooting victim appears to have been a bookie, making a living (or enhancing his living) conducting gambling operations. He was not merely a person who placed bets. He was a person who accepted bets. In many places in this country, bookies have to pay “rent” to the regional mafia boss, making the operation part of organized crime. Note: I have no evidence that the shooting victim here was involved with OC.

    2. Vice cops are not the lowest form of life. You may strongly disagree with the need for them, or dispute that there is any social benefit to their work, but your rhetoric is surely too strong and I think undermines your central point: that our governments often try to police private activities that should be left alone.

    Thanks for the forum.

    CP

  6. #6 Ginger Yellow
    January 26, 2006

    ” Is there any form of life lower than a vice cop?”

    A drugs tsar?

  7. #7 BG
    January 26, 2006

    I guess the argument in return would be that a known bookie (by the laws of the land, a criminal) who takes action that routinely runs into the six figure per week neighborhood has to be exponentially more likely to be armed than you or I, if only for his own protection. As an incorrigible gambler and online poker player I tend to agree that this shouldn’t be illegal, and I definitely agree with the point that vice cops are generally busting people that are only doing possible “harm” to themselves/their bank accounts/their future ability to remain itch-free thanks to that prostitute they just hired. That being said, as long as the cops are tasked by our laws to arrest people who are quite likely to be armed, I understand the multiple officer/drawn weapon scenario to a degree. Are there excessive displays of potential force that occur? Sure. But aside from the “accidental” nature of the shooting, there’s not a thing about the linked story that I find shocking, appalling or even egregiously excessive. I contend that the potential for danger is there for the officers, and if they’re being tasked to enforce laws and arrest people who know they’re breaking them, they are going to go in prepared for the worst-case scenario.

    Agree or disagree with the laws, this isn’t likely just a case of a single guy happily goofing around with his pals to the tune of a couple grand a week on football. He knew he was breaking the law, and I maintain he was quite probably connected to a bigger organization to help maintain the variance of booking action on a (relatively) large scale. He was running an illegal business, which the vice squad saw fit to shut down. I don’t find anything in this story to be the least bit surprising.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    January 26, 2006

    carpundit wrote:

    1. The shooting victim appears to have been a bookie, making a living (or enhancing his living) conducting gambling operations. He was not merely a person who placed bets. He was a person who accepted bets. In many places in this country, bookies have to pay “rent” to the regional mafia boss, making the operation part of organized crime. Note: I have no evidence that the shooting victim here was involved with OC.

    I just don’t think this matters. The reason why there is organized crime involvement is because gambling is unjustifiably illegal. We can’t pass laws to create a black market and then justify the law by the existence of that black market. Whether he placed bets or accepted bets, he is gambling with his own money against other consenting adults gambling with their own money. The state has no business being involved.

    2. Vice cops are not the lowest form of life. You may strongly disagree with the need for them, or dispute that there is any social benefit to their work, but your rhetoric is surely too strong and I think undermines your central point: that our governments often try to police private activities that should be left alone.

    Could you do that job? I certainly couldn’t. There’s no way I could go to work every day knowing that my job is to interfere with the freedom of consenting adults. My conscience would not allow me to do that. That others can do it speaks volumes about their character, I think. But yes, “lowest form of life” is clearly hyperbole.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    January 26, 2006

    BG-

    The article does explicitly say that the undercover officer had noted that the man had not shown any propensity for violence at all. Nor does it indicate anywhere that he was a bookie rather than just a guy gambling fairly high sums of money with someone he thought was a friend.

  10. #10 Mark Paris
    January 26, 2006

    The whole thing is absurd. The police had been commiting crimes for several months in order to arrest someone for doing essentially exactly the same thing they were doing. And now he’s dead and the only other people involved in committing the crime in question are still going around carrying guns. Does this make sense?

    Spyder, you might be just a little more paranoid than I am, but certainly the shooting was either the result of incredibly irresponsible and incompetent firearms handling, or it was intentional. If the weapon discharge was actually accidental, the cop involved should be fired.

  11. #11 Morat
    January 26, 2006

    Spyder: The description of the shooting is vague. When I first read that, I assumed SWAT had fired when the weapon was discharged — although that seems really twitchy for anyone on SWAT, especially if the guy was unmoving.

    So I’m guessing you’re right — the “accidentally discharged weapon” was the one that shot him. If you’ve got a live gun pointed at someone, there is NO room for such error.

    I suspect the “accident” was a hyped up cop.

    Why the hell was SWAT called for a bookie bust?

  12. #12 mw66
    January 26, 2006

    But yes, “lowest form of life” is clearly hyperbole.

    Very clearly, since my immediate response to the question was “child molesters.”

    This sounds like an appalling combination of incompetence and accident. I still am not clear why the cops felt they had to draw down on the guy in the first place. If he wasn’t brandishing a weapon, there should have been no reason for them to have needed their guns drawn to make the arrest. In any event, I can imagine every lawyer in town is lining up to take on the inevitable wrongful death suit. I hope his family gets millions.

  13. #13 RPM
    January 26, 2006

    Is there any form of life lower than a vice cop? Their only job is to make sure no one is actually having fun and enjoying their freedom as an adult in ways others don’t approve of.

    They also must wear pastel clothing, or so I’ve heard.

  14. #14 Treban
    January 26, 2006

    The shooting victim appears to have been a bookie, making a living (or enhancing his living) conducting gambling operations. He was not merely a person who placed bets. He was a person who accepted bets. In many places in this country, bookies have to pay “rent” to the regional mafia boss, making the operation part of organized crime. Note: I have no evidence that the shooting victim here was involved with OC.

    It doesn’t matter if he was fielding bets – it didn’t sound like he was a bigtime bookie – it didn’t really imply he was a bookie at all. I am tired of hearing about innocents being shot and killed by overly hyped up cops. They need to change the way they raid people to be sure they do not harm civilians. They are way to keen on putting the lives of themselves in higher import than innocent bystanders. I realize that cops don’t get paid a lot – neither do soldiers, they both have a job that puts their lives at risk. They sign up for it and I appreciate the sacrifice they make for the rest of us. They need to remember that they are here to protect and serve us – not kill us.

  15. #15 Phillip J. Birmingham
    January 27, 2006

    These needs some pondering. It takes precision shooting to kill a person with a single shot.

    Well, to instantly kill them, yeah. To mortally wound someone is less hard, but it leaves the possibility that they’ll trigger a bomb, kill a hostage, or whatever it is you’re willing to kill them to prevent.

  16. #16 Phillip J. Birmingham
    January 27, 2006

    These needs some pondering. It takes precision shooting to kill a person with a single shot.

    Well, to instantly kill them, yeah. To mortally wound someone is less hard, but it leaves the possibility that they’ll trigger a bomb, kill a hostage, or whatever it is you’re willing to kill them to prevent.

  17. #17 Carpundit
    January 27, 2006

    “It takes precision shooting to kill a person with a single shot.”

    If you’re trying to kill someone, it certainly takes precision shooting to do it with one round. But if the shooting is an accident, it takes no skill at all.

    In law enforcement, there is a common feeling that gunfights don’t go fairly, that bad guys can take six rounds and keep shooting, but the cop is likely to succumb to a single round that slips in under his vest. Sort of like the drunk driver walking away from the fatal crash, only with the equities reversed. It happens far too often for a single shot to be thought of as unlikely-to-be-fatal.

  18. #18 Roman Werpachowski
    January 27, 2006

    1. I think there is a difference between betting from time to time, even if it is illegal, and earning money on illegal hazard. Laws should be respected and broken only for a very important purpose.
    2. One shot can always kill. It’s not “inconceivable”. Many inexperienced shooters kill themselves while cleaning their weapons or fooling with them. There is an old Polish saying “Once a year, a rifle shoots on its own”.

  19. #19 Hyperion
    January 28, 2006

    Couple of things to add, since this happened a few miles away from my hometown:

    First off, when I did target shooting, we had a rule on the firing range: You do not point your gun at anything that you do not intend to shoot. This is because, as has already been mentioned, firearms can accidentally discharge for any number of reasons, or mistakes could be made, a bullet could remain in the chamber when you think it’s unloaded, the safety could slip off, etc. So even an unloaded gun with safety on should still never be pointed at anything other than an intended target.

    Secondly, I find the location of the shot highly suspect: a center body mass shot is what one is trained to do when one wishes to kill a suspect. It implies that not only was the gun aimed at the suspect when the shot was fired, but that the officer had already been aiming to kill. Drawing a weapon as a precaution might be understandable, but I do not know of any reason why an officer should be aiming for a kill in a situation with a suspect who is not known to be either armed or violent, and does not appear to be armed.

    Finally, when a gun fires, there is a definite kickback. It’s not like in the movies where a guy fires a gun onehanded with perfect accuracy. If a gun fires “accidentally,” and one is not expecting it to do so, it is entirely possible that the officer might drop the gun, or at least that the shot would go wild and hit the pavement, a tree etc. In short, the odds of hitting a suspect right in the chest with an “accidental discharge” is highly improbable. This doesn’t mean that it could not have happened, but it does imply that the shooting may have been intentional. Perhaps the officer involved had placed bets with this bookie with his own money and lost.

  20. #20 Roman Werpachowski
    January 29, 2006

    First off, when I did target shooting, we had a rule on the firing range: You do not point your gun at anything that you do not intend to shoot. This is because, as has already been mentioned, firearms can accidentally discharge for any number of reasons, or mistakes could be made, a bullet could remain in the chamber when you think it’s unloaded, the safety could slip off, etc. So even an unloaded gun with safety on should still never be pointed at anything other than an intended target.

    Precisely. That’s what my grandma told me, they taught her this way in the Home Army some 60-odd years ago ;-)

    Secondly, I find the location of the shot highly suspect: a center body mass shot is what one is trained to do when one wishes to kill a suspect.

    Why? If a random shot hit a man, what part of his body is the most probable victim? The one with the largest area: chest, belly. I find nothing strange with it. I’d find it odd if the policeman shot the man’s ear off.

    Finally, when a gun fires, there is a definite kickback. It’s not like in the movies where a guy fires a gun onehanded with perfect accuracy. If a gun fires “accidentally,” and one is not expecting it to do so, it is entirely possible that the officer might drop the gun, or at least that the shot would go wild and hit the pavement, a tree etc. In short, the odds of hitting a suspect right in the chest with an “accidental discharge” is highly improbable.

    Did you do any calculations, or are you just taking this evaluation out of the thin air? If the kickback is a factor, than it migh have happened that the officer was holding his gun aimed at the pavement, the gun fired and due to some unusually strong kickback the shot went in the suspect’s chest.

    This doesn’t mean that it could not have happened, but it does imply that the shooting may have been intentional. Perhaps the officer involved had placed bets with this bookie with his own money and lost.

    A bold assumption. It seems to me that in your eyes, a policeman is suspected of murder just because he’s a policeman.

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