Authorities have ruled that Purcellville officer was justified in the fatal shooting of a suicidal 17-year-old boy last May. Officer Timothy Hood was defended by the Loudon County Commonwealth’s Attorney as acting in self-defense when he opened fire on Christian Sierra. The ruling means that the officer will not face any criminal proceedings nor will he face any professional reprimand. Whether or the teen’s family will choose to pursue civil justice in the slaying remains to be seen.
According to FOX 5 Reporter Paul Wagner, the police report details much of what happened when Hood and the other officers arrived at a home on Frazer Drive regarding a call of a suicidal teen. Sierra had already stabbed himself 19 times in the head, neck, and wrist by the time police were called. His friends attempted to stop him by putting themselves in harm’s way. When Officer Hood pulled up to the scene, witnesses said Sierra was screaming and out of control. The police report states Sierra locked eyes on Officer Hood and came at him with a knife. Sierra was within five to six feet of the officer when Hood opened fire.
Officer Hood did not have a Taser gun that day, though he did receive basic training on how to deal with suicidal people. The police report also detailed thirteen previous incidents in which police were called to Sierra’s home within the last five years.
Purcellville Police Chief Darryl Smith said as a press conference held Thursday that no amount of training would have changed the outcome that day.
Smith added, “This is a very sad situation for our community, the officers, the town, the family; my heart goes out to them. I mean, no one would wish this on anybody. We don’t come to work to hurt anybody. We come to work to serve this community and we do it to the best of our ability.”
Officer Hood, who has been on the job for a little over a year, is expected to return to duty within the next few weeks. He will also be receiving the latest in crisis intervention training. The family was briefed in person on Thursday and was read the police report. They declined to comment on the report, of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s ruling at the request of their attorney, Wayne Cohen.
According to The Washington Post, their lawyer said the family does plan to pursue other avenues of justice. The paper quotes Cohen as saying:
“They hope to have an independent investigation conducted where the investigators are not affiliated with the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Cohen said. “The reality is that Christian had a knife, a police officer shows up with a gun, and a teenager’s life was lost. Those facts deserve independent, detailed investigation to try to figure out why the situation was not de-escalated before shots were fired.”
Christian’s family may choose to pursue civil justice via a wrongful death claim. Proving wrongful death does not require proving that the officer or the police department intended to kill Christian. In most cases of wrongful death it is an issue of carelessness, recklessness, or negligence that leads to the fatality. In this case, it would seem an experienced personal injury attorney could make a compelling argument on those grounds regarding Hood’s lack of less-than-lethal equipment, such as a Taser. Also, his relative lack of experience and what sounds like limited training in dealing with suicidal and mentally ill individuals could be argued as further proof of negligence on the part of the police force and county authorities.
Whatever the Sierra family decides to do, we would hope that they are able to find sense of peace or relief from what has undoubtedly been a time of extreme grief and turmoil. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family, and Christian’s friends, and hope that measures will be taken to ensure that no other youth – or family – must endure this kind of loss and pain again.
Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law