Police

"There's No Transparency, and I Find that Inexcusable"

Meet the 82-year-old ex-cop, World War II vet, and private eye who's challenging one of the largest police departments in the country.

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At a stoplight just a few miles from his home, Nicholas Beltrante, 82, puts on his flashers, opens the driver's side door to his car, gets out, and approaches my car. I roll down my window.

"You see that little memorial over there?" he asks. I nod. "That's where a Fairfax County Police officer killed Ashley McIntosh." He starts to offer more detail, then realizes the middle of an intersection probably isn't the best place to fill me in. "I'll tell you more about it when we get to Ruby Tuesdays," he says.

Beltrante asked me to lunch (disclosure: his treat) last month after seeing a column I wrote on the striking lack of transparency among Northern Virginia's three largest police departments. He wanted to discuss his new organization, the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability (VCCPA), which he says he started in order to fight what he calls the "decades of corruption and secrecy at the police department here in Fairfax County."

In addition to passion, Beltrante brings some gravitas to the project. He points to his "World War II Veteran" license plate. Beltrante served as a Navy medic. "People still come up and thank me," he says, referring to the license plate. "Always makes my day." Beltrante worked for the D.C. Metro police department for 14 years, retiring with the rank of sergeant detective. He then opened a private detective agency, which he ran for 30 years. The Democratic National Committee hired his agency to sweep their office for bugs after the Watergrate break-in. (Beltrante met his wife Patricia—to whom he's been married for 35 years—when she came to the agency with suspicions that her then-husband was cheating. He was.)

Ashley McIntosh was killed in February 2008 when Fairfax County Police Officer Amanda Perry, responding to a petty theft at a convenience store, sped through an intersection without sounding her siren, striking McIntosh's car. Perry was charged with reckless driving, the first time in decades an on-duty Fairfax County cop was charged with a crime. A judge later dismissed the charge, though Perry was ultimately discharged from the force for falsifying time sheets.

"They finally settled with the family in February," Beltrante says. "$1.5 million. That's $1.5 million taxpayers have to pay because Fairfax can't keep its police officers accountable."

Beltrante emphasizes that it isn't the mistakes but the lack of accountability that got him agitated enough to start his organization. "You have this David Masters who was killed last year," he says, referring to another incident in which a Fairfax officer shot an unarmed man along the same highway. "They won't even release the police officer's name. They won't even release the report. We're just supposed to trust them when they say that shooting was justified. I've worked in government. You don't keep the government accountable by shielding the people who work for it. There's this perception in some departments that officers are above the law."

Beltrante recently received some assistance to get his website up and running. But for the first several months of its existence, he ran the VCCPA from a typewriter, fax machine, and telephone in his home. "The phone rings all the time," he says. "There are more than enough complaints to keep me busy."

He then rattles off stories. There's the NAACP complaint about Randall Leroy Rollins, a black man killed by Fairfax police in 2007 during a drug sting. Police say Rollins reached for a gun. Witness accounts differ from police accounts. More disturbing, Rollins' family says when his body was delivered to them, his testicles had been removed. (Rollins was with a white woman at the time of the sting.)

There's Sal Culosi, the Fairfax optometrist killed during a 2006 botched SWAT raid on his home. Culosi was suspected of wagering on college football games with friends. Then there's Ian Smith, a mentally-ill man shot by Fairfax police just this year after a tactical team entered his home and he brandished a plastic BB pistol.

Beltrante acknowledges that the actions of the police may have been justified in some of these incidents. "The problem is that they refuse to share any information. Not with the press, not with the victims' families. Their transparency policy is that there's no transparency. And I find that inexcusable."

Beltrante eventually wants to start chapters of his organization in Richmond, Hampton Roads, and other cities across Virginia. First, however, he wants Fairfax to establish a formal civilian review board to oversee the police department. It's one of the largest police departments in the country without a citizen oversight board. Beltrante also wants to challenge Virginia's open records law, or at least the way the police departments in Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Arlington have interpreted it, which is that it gives them carte blanche to turn down any and all information requests.

"I've already filed the open records request for the report and the name of the police officer who shot David Masters," Beltrante says. "They turned me down, as I expected they would. We hope to work with the ACLU to either challenge the law in court, or get the legislature to change it. Think about that. An officer shoots and kills an unarmed man and we're not permitted to even know the officer's name. I find that offensive as a former police officer, as a veteran, and just as someone who happens to live in Fairfax County."

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

NEXT: U.S. Out of the Lithium Mines

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  1. Great post. Nicholas Beltrante sounds like a good man.

    Quibble – The Navy doesn’t have medics. They have Hospital Corpsmen (informally, corpsmen). They are a truly heroic bunch of guys.

    1. If by heroic you mean gay then yes. NTTAWWT

      1. What, more gay than other sailors? 🙂

        1. Cuz they won’t leave their buddies behind?

          1. “Cuz they won’t leave their buddy’s behind?”

            Fixed it.

      2. “Gay”?? A cheapshot by a dimwit. Most corpmen have a hell of a lot more couage and character than some of the people on this forum.

    2. Beltrante served as a Navy medic with the Marines in Okinawa.
      A quibble on your quibble – Sometimes Navy corpsmen are assigned to Marines units. The jarheads call them medics in the field, squidly status not withstanding.

      1. No, they call them “doc” or Corpsman usually. I never had a Marine call me a medic.

        1. Are there officer corpsmen? I’m thinking about going to med school and becoming a chirurgeon. But I’ll only do it if the Navy lets me pick FMF as a career path.

          1. There are medical officers that can be attached to the Marines, but the Naval Hospital Corps is the only all enlisted Corps in the military so no officer corpsmen.

            1. Ah, I see. I guess then,my question is are there medical officers who are attached to the marines for the duration of their service? Or are they usually rotated out?

              1. Even FMF Corpsman rotate back and forth actually. For example, we would rotate sea duty (which is the actual FMF tour, ship duty, overseas duty) with shore duty at a medical clinic or hospital. No one gets to stay with the Marines all the time.

                However, as enlisted, I had some flexibility with regard to duty assignments. As a doctor, for example, you could do a tour with the Marines out of Camp Lejeune, then rotate to Naval Hospital Camp Lejuene. However, I can’t be certain how much flexibility officers have in that regard since I never was one.

      2. Though, in all honesty, I wasn’t stationed with Marines much 🙂

      3. People in the know call them “corpsemen”

        1. I was a Corpsman. I often tell people I was a Navy Medic because they don’t know what a Corpsman is. If I tell them I was a Corpsman, they inevitably ask “what’s that” and I answer – “a medic.” It is just easier. AND, people that are REALLY in the know call us “pecker-checker.”

          1. AND, people that are REALLY in the know call us “pecker-checker.”

            Truth.

            1. In the army they’re known as canker mechanics. For obvious reasons.

          2. AND, people that are REALLY in the know call us “pecker-checker.”

            Damn it. You know you’re not supposed to tell that!

            BTW, where did you go to A school?

  2. In the final analysis, citizens get the police departments they deserve/want.
    The constitutiona and the bill of rights LIMIT government – no one else. But somewhere along the line, citizens lost all skepticism of government, and therefore the police.

    And again – a judge blithely dismisses a case. And reckless driving – not even manslaughter!!! There you have it.

    1. In the final analysis, citizens get the police departments they deserve/want.

      Arizona-related polls say that the people overwhelmingly desire a police state.

      1. No, Arizona-related polls suggest that people overwhelmingly desire that the laws we enact are followed. By everyone – including those that are sworn to enforce those laws.

        1. So you obviously think that there is some contradiction between blind unquestioning obedience to the law (and with a complete disregard for the 4th Amendment, because obviously laws don’t apply to cops) and wanting a police state.

          I’m not sure what you think that contradiction is, exactly.

          1. Someguy is a typical airhead reasonoid.

            It is the police officers job to enforce the law. You don’t like the law? Go to the polls and elect someone who will change it. And no, the police are NOT above the law. They should be held even more accountable because they take an oath to uphold the law.

            1. So who do you go to instead of the guilty cop-shop, so they can just cover it up? AG say they have no authority, FBI refuses to look into federal crimes, other law enforcement claim “out of jurisdiction”, in fact almost everyone does as they tell us “law enforcement no longer enforces the law” in our county. We call ours the “Placergate” and “Alaskagate” scandals that even involved criminal activity of state and federal judges, like suppression of evidence, witnesses and jury, and obstructing justice. Tell us all who to go to – all citizens in the U.S. should be able to have this info., since law enforcement doesn’t want to do what our taxes pay it to do.

  3. Free lunch at Ruby Tuesdays, Win-Go! The salad bar is outstanding, but why not go for the steak and lobster?

  4. Thanks for pointing that out J sub D. We Corpsmen tend to not like being called medics, though we do it occasionally so people will understand what we are. 😉

  5. Thanks for pointing that out J sub D. We Corpsmen tend to not like being called medics,

    So, how do you feel about being called corpse-men?

    1. Not real crazy about that one either 😉

  6. I wish for this man to run for president.

  7. Good article

  8. Whoa, whoa, whoa. He worked for the DNC at some time in the past? Clearly he’s an America hating socialist terrorist sympathizer.

    1. No Al. I know you are being sarcastic, but the old time Dems were not the progressive Dems you see today. Most were actually patriots. It’s like Zell Miller said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me.”

      1. +3

  9. Great article Balko

  10. Cool piece Radley. I’d be interested to hear more about Beltrante’s experience with the DCPD — why he left, what abuses he witnessed (or partook in) while on the job, etc.

  11. “Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I sold you and you sold me.
    There lie they, and here lie we
    Under the spreading chestnut tree.”

  12. Beltrante focuses (understandably) on police departments in Northern Virginia, but his complaints seem applicable all over the USA.

    Police corruption and brutality goes all the way back to the colonial period, but the radical “us vs. them” police mentality seems much more recent, and actually more disturbing to me than previous police abuses.

    1. Hit the nail right on the head with that one! I agree, but we all have to be a BIG united front to fight this for the sake of all of the U.S. Anyone wishing to address this issue and have evidence of govt. corruption, please email justicewatch09@yahoo.com. We want everyone to pound on the Dept. of Justice all at once, instead of one at a time and being swatted like flies.

  13. AND, people that are REALLY in the know call us “pecker-checker.”

    Ha Ha I just was about to write that, but have written as “effing pecker-checker”.

  14. “More disturbing, Rollins’ family says when his body was delivered to them, his testicles had been removed. (Rollins was with a white woman at the time of the sting.)”

    I am assuming an autopsy was performed before the body was delivered to the family. I am not an expert, but during the only autopsy I have ever personally witnessed the testicles were removed and it was explained by the [Orange County, CA] coroner’s rep that this was standard procedure. Good article overall, but this aspect of the Rollins case may not actually be cause to be more disturbed.

    1. It is standard procedure for the government to take your balls when you die…nothing to see here.

    2. I think though that the greater point is that without the transparency you wouldn’t know that. If the department states that was the reason for it then it makes sense. The departments refusal to release anything allows this type of questioning to happen

  15. The Balko ball kick was very good this go round… maybe we were kicked with patent leather wingtips?

  16. Police = Federal bailout of the donut industry.

  17. More disturbing, Rollins’ family says when his body was delivered to them, his testicles had been removed. (Rollins was with a white woman at the time of the sting.)

    Ah, good to see some old fashioned racism. I thought people were letting their guard down against black men shaggin’ white women… because you know white women are too stupid to know any better.

    I personally think more white women should procreate with black men… phase out those annoying black women that irritate and corrupt everything they are near.

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  19. “Beltrante acknowledges that the actions of the police may have been justified in some of these incidents.”

    I seriously doubt that any of these incidents were justified.

  20. Just want to say what a great blog you got here! I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

  21. Glad to see things haven’t changed that much since I left.

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  23. These problems are not just limited to Fairfax, VA, they are all over the U.S. Justice Watch ’09 is working to stop such “lack of transparency by government” in all 50 states. Anyone willing to donate small bits of pro bono time, donations, etc., email justicewatch09@yahoo.com [dedicated to protecting the civil liberties of the elderly, disabled and poor]

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  25. The “Placergate” scandal is gaining steam as protestors staged a rally on August 26, 2010 at the Placer County Courthouse in Roseville. The main theme of the protest was the blatant corruption and injustice carried out through the Placer Court system, and how it seems to be just a “revenue” system being used against taxpayers, instead of for “serving and protecting the public”.
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