Christian Sierra and Sandra Posada-Sierra

The late Christian Sierra with his mother, Sandra Posada-Sierra 

Court proceedings commenced this week in the civil suit against former Purcellville Police Officer Timothy Hood, who shot and killed local teen Christian Sierra in 2014.

The victim’s parents, Eduardo and Sandra Sierra, filed a wrongful death suit in March 2016 seeking damages from Hood, former Purcellville Police Chief Darryl Smith and the Town of Purcellville. According to the original court filings, the plaintiffs are seeking $10.24 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

Hood responded to a police dispatch on the afternoon of May 24, 2014, alleging that Sierra was trying to stab himself with a paring knife in the presence of friends at a townhome on Frazer Drive in Purcellville. Two of Sierra’s peers reportedly attempted to restrain him after he had already stabbed himself multiple times, but they were unsuccessful. Sierra fled after jumping from the second story of the residence.

An armed Sierra ran through the neighborhood, closely pursued by one of his friends, before encountering officer Hood. According to a Virginia State Police report filed soon after the incident, the friend was struggling for control of the knife when Hood exited his patrol vehicle, after which Sierra broke free and began to advance toward the officer.

Hood, the report said, discharged his gun once Sierra was within five to 10 feet of him. The teen reportedly continued to advance after being shot once, prompting Hood to shoot him three more times.

Two more officers reported to the scene after Sierra had been shot. Sierra — who, according to an autopsy, had stabbed himself 13 times in different areas of his body — later died from his injuries.

On Monday, Attorney Thomas Plofchan Jr. of Potomac Falls-based Westlake Legal Group presented the case on behalf of the plaintiffs before Circuit Court Judge James Howe Brown Jr.

Julia Judkins of Fairfax law firm Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins is representing the defense.

Counsel spent most of Monday selecting a jury, with Brown, Plofchan and Judkins asking many questions of 70 potential jurors. Plofchan’s inquiries included concerns regarding bias against those of a certain race, non-English speakers and members of the LGBT community, while Judkins asked whether potential jurors held biased opinions for or against law enforcement.

A nine-person jury was selected and reported back to the Loudoun County Courthouse Tuesday morning for opening arguments.

Plofchan opened his address by saying that Sierra was “having some problems” and had become suicidal as a result. Sierra had recently concluded that he was bisexual and was struggling with depression, the attorney said.

Plofchan then walked the jury through the events of May 24, 2014, naming the witnesses present at the scene and questioning Hood’s previous testimony regarding the incident.

“The defendant initially said Christian Sierra was ‘charging’ at him, but eventually changed that to say that he was ‘walking briskly,’” Plofchan said, additionally claiming that — contrary to the initial police report — there is no evidence or testimony that Hood warned to Sierra to drop his weapon.

Plofchan further accused Hood of abandoning the prior training he had received from the Town of Purcellville and the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy in Fredericksburg.

“Officer Hood took courses on dealing with and approaching the mentally ill. He also took courses on use of force, where his instruction would have been that you should not use lethal force unless you’ve exhausted all other options,” Plofchan said. “He had no concern for this mentally ill boy. He made no attempt to de-escalate the situation.”

Because the camera attached to Hood’s patrol car was not working on the day of the shooting, records of the police dispatch call to which Hood responded will serve as digital evidence. According to Plofchan, Hood hung up his end of the call one minute and 32 seconds after the dispatch was sent, but he called back a mere three seconds later to report shots had been fired.

Plofchan concluded his statement by referring to the remaining members of the Sierra family, reminding jurors that they’re tasked with choosing whether the family should be awarded damages and, if so, the value of those damages.

“You will hear from a family grieving its loss of solace, its loss of Christian’s funny jokes and excitement when Halloween and Christmas approached,” he said. “We will ask you to decide whether the evidence shows Thomas Hood had callous disregard for his training.”

Judkins began her remarks to the jury by insisting that her client “did not lie,” going on to explain that Hood’s actions resulted from the quickness and apparent danger of the “crisis situation.”

When Hood saw that blood had been drawn from Sierra’s self-inflicted knife wounds and witnessed Sierra and his friend making physical contact, Judkins said the officer believed the two boys were fighting and was thus compelled to act.

“The standard for dealing with a person with a pointed weapon is, what would a reasonable police officer do given the circumstances?” Judkins said, adding that witnesses couldn’t recall whether Hood had provided any warnings to Sierra. Witnesses did not rule out the possibility of a warning being issued.

“All we know is he had a knife and he was coming at my client. He was too close,” she said. “Police officers are trained to aim and shoot for the center of mass when a person is a threat to themselves or others.”

Refuting Plofchan’s suggestion that Hood should have remained in his vehicle when encountering Sierra, Judkins said her client “couldn’t have just waited and hoped some other officer would get there.” She also disputed Plofchan’s claims that the location of two bullets that passed through Sierra suggested that the teen was not advancing directly toward Hood, saying that the position and angle of Sierra’s body suggested otherwise.

Finally, Judkins detailed Sierra’s alleged pattern of violent behavior, which caused law enforcement to be called to his home numerous times since 2009.

“Christian Sierra assaulted his mother and grandmother multiple times. According to a psychologist who will testify before the court, Christian’s parents were conflicted on how to treat him,” she said.

The teen reportedly spent time in a “shelter” and underwent treatment by Loudoun County Mental Health Services for more than two years, though in the months leading up to his death he halved the dosage of his prescribed medication against his doctor’s wishes. Judkins also claimed that Sierra had come out as bisexual to his family -- an interaction that hadn’t gone well.

“They didn’t accept it — they couldn’t accept it,” she said of Eduardo and Sandra Sierra, adding that their son had demonstrated suicidal tendencies in March 2014 when he wielded a knife in front of them and threatened to kill himself.

The defense’s opening argument concluded with Judkins’ claim that Hood “had no opportunity to de-escalate the situation. Christian Sierra was running at my client with a knife. He acted in self-defense, with reasonable belief that he had to act with deadly force.”

The trial is expected to continue until Nov. 4.

______

Related coverage:

-Report: Deadly Purcellville teen shooting justified

(26) comments

destini99

I'm sorry but if you are scared to be a police officer maybe you should look into a career change. I don't want to face death everyday which is why I'm not a cop. Seems like the police have a lot of fear of the populace they are to police. It's clear this person had mental issues and was more a danger to themselves than anyone else.

ace10

Ah, I see that the expert (on all matters) has spoken... when faced with a subject who is wielding a deadly weapon, and in the absence of backup who would have a lethal weapon drawn on the subject, the PO should have attempted to deploy less-than-lethal measures. Eesh.

amerigirl

Grow up and make comments on the issues, not me. Seek help with your problem. If you think I should not be able to ask a question, too bad.

ace10

You didn't "ask a question." You posed a rhetorical question, in order for you to make the proclamation that this situation didn't have to be life or death. Well, the guy with the knife thought otherwise.

ace10

I think it's adorable that you demand that my comments be focused on the "issues" while you toss two insults directly at me. Hypocrisy much?

amerigirl

Ace, I did ask a question, and I still don't know the answer, it is not a rhetorical question just because you took it that way. I only responded to your very unwarranted attack on my character. You have only said 2 things about the entire article, but attacked me as a person 4 times. This is a common practice of yours in every post that I respond to. See the problem? You seem to have some kind of obsession and you need to get over it.

LetFreedomRing

Classic case of suicide by cop. The police officer was under attack and responded with appropriate and justifiable action. Deepest sympathies for the grieving parents but blaming an innocent cop is not the right way to vindicate their suicidal son for his own regretful actions.

amerigirl

Don't we have tasers or beanbag rounds in Loudoun? The situation didn't have to be a life or death one. I don't know if Sierra may have had mental problems but there could be underlying circumstances. Now both the family and the cop have deal with the tragedy.

LetFreedomRing

If someone is charging at you with a weapon, you’re more than welcome to defend yourself with tasers and beanbags. Good luck. Personally, I would rather defend my life with the most effective tool available.

romano

sure, lets shoot a bloodied knife wielding attacker with bean bags. The naivete is stunning.

amerigirl

Maybe you are not aware that beanbag rounds are loaded with #9 lead shots that weight approximately 40 grams. These shells can be loaded into a 12 gauge shotgun. When the gun is shot, the bag will be expelled at a speed of about ninety meters per second. It should knock just about anything off their feet. They can however be lethal. Think you could stand up to one?

doverboy

Did you read the article? Multiple issues with mental problems and then halved his dosage on his meds. I am sorry that the family could not find peace for their child but to turn it into a suit against the police department is a money grab

ace10

Reading comprehension is not a strong suit of that poster.

doverboy

Bob, Your comment and stance on this matter makes me realize you are not the person I want as a county supervisor. You usually make some sense but you are way off on your assessment. It would appear that this kid wanted and received a police assisted suicide

BobOhneiserEsq

Tough topic but should have been reviewed by our local prosecutor instead of just relying on the state police investigation which I did read at the time.

There is no evidence in that report any other person was deemed in danger - the suicide was being attempted with small cuts by the boy on himself.

No other witness corroborated the police report on being threatened which should make this trial interesting if they show up and there is rumored to be cell phone evidence of the sounds and time between the skidding to a stop police car and the onset of shooting which would challenge the report quite a bit. Let's wait for the evidence on that one.

Nobody said the cop should stay in his car. The point was that instead of going from 40 feet away to 21 feet away telling him to drop the knife it might have been appropriate to try to calm the situation down, do no harm, ask others to move away from him if they were near and if the boy did rush the cop get back in car instead of killing the suicide threatening boy or only shoot him once not 4 times. I hope all the evidence is allowed to come out in this trial which . in my opinion the commonwealth attorney office should have done at the time. Put your own children into this situation before judging whether mortal force and the urgency to use it was warranted. This was a suicide call in suburbia, America not Iraq with a kid who might have an IED or bomb. in his hands

romano

I will put my own children into this situation...as the police officer. A bloodied man with a violent history was rushing at him with a knife. Shoot.

IQuilt

Are you saying that Plowman never saw the State PD investigation? Are you saying that Plowman did not make a decision as to prosecute the officer or not?

scatterbrain

"Excuse me, Mr. Knife Wielder. Before you rush me, could you first allow me to enter the safety of my police vehicle? Thanks so much."

romano

It sickens, but does not surprise, me to read the naivete and utter stupidity of those who feel the officer should have handled this differently, based on what we know. Evidence suggests that this happened way too quickly for any judgement on whether this man was mentally ill, or what his intentions were. He had a knife, he was aggressive, and lives were at risk. The officer had a few seconds to assess the situation. Some of you who are fashionably quick to condemn the police for pretty much anything and everything would be the first ones to blame this officer if Sierra’s friend was killed in the struggle for the knife. You would have asked why the police didn’t protect the friend. So hypocritical. The plaintiff’s attorney’s suggestion that the officer should have waited in his car is a special kind of stupid dependent on equally stupid jurors. This man had a history of violent behavior. He had a knife and was covered in blood. He charged at the office. Any reasonable person would have shot him, and rightfully so.

BobOhneiserEsq

Ace10, What if the dispatcher said wait for backup? What if the 21 foot rule was breached by the police not the person threatening suicide? What justified the next three shots if the first shot completely stopped the approach of the person threatening suicide? Isn't the person who needs help more important than the ego of the cop especially since the call was to help AVOID a suicide? :-)

ace10

Under no circumstances does a dispatcher control a developing situation. They're not there. They cannot see the situation in real time. And it's very likely that they aren't a sworn LEO. They are simply a conduit for information. Since I wasn't there, and there is no video footage of the events as they unfolded, it would be imprudent for me to comment on the rest of your "what ifs." To my original point... police are not called to a scene in order for them to remain within their vehicle. What if the subject of the call had stabbed the other party during the struggle for control of the deadly weapon (per the LTM story), while the PO sat inside his vehicle? A mentally-ill person intent on committing suicide (by cop) is an incredibly difficult situation for all parties.

LetSanityPrevail

Bob, normally you make sense but in this case the officer acted on the spot and didn’t have the benefit of knowledge that you supposedly have now. Yes it is a horrible situation that this boy was killed no ifs or buts.

RoundHillGuy

Bob, tell us about all the edged weapons experience you have and all the times you've been in harms way and experience the physiological effects of an adrenaline dump, auditory exclusion, pupil dilation, etc when you put yourself in harms way. Also tell us that the officer should have just let this knife wielding adult sized male menace others. please enlighten us Bob.

AFF

You’re obviously way too scared to be a good cop. Maybe you should hang up your gunbelt and leave the policing to people with more self control?

WesternSky

This office should rot in his own nightmares for what he did to this young man.

ace10

Plantiff's suggestion that a responding officer remain inside their vehicle is next level stupid.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.