The police shooting of a 17-year-old Purcellville boy has been ruled justified, according to Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman.
Christian Sierra, a junior at Loudoun Valley High School, was shot and killed by a Purcellville Police officer on May 24.
The announcement of the justified finding came today following the release of a Virginia State Police report.
"This situation, since it happened in a matter of seconds, there really wasn't a lot of time for this officer to " the individual was non-responsive to his commands and request to drop the weapon and he was faced with an immediate threat. And no amount of training in dealing with the mentally ill trumps officers safety or the public's safety," Plowman said.
Plowman said he met with Sierra's family's prior to releasing the finding to the public.
"I'm not sure words can describe someone's reaction when they've lost a child," he said.
According to the 16-page report, police were called about 2:14 p.m. to a home at 103 Frazer Drive for a report of Sierra trying to stab himself. The caller told police the teen had already stabbed himself multiple times and two friends at the home with Sierra unsuccessfully tried to restrain him.
During the incident, Sierra swung at one of his friends with the knife.
The caller told dispatchers that Sierra jumped off the second-story of the townhome and fled.
Sierra continued to run through the neighborhood and was later found by Officer T. Hood, a 16-month veteran of the police force and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, sitting on the side of the road near Frazer Drive, the report says.
At the time a friend was behind Sierra struggling for control of the knife. When Hood got out of his patrol vehicle, he yelled at Sierra multiple times to drop the knife.
Reports say Sierra eventually broke free from his friend, stood up and began walking toward Officer Hood.
Hood continued to order Sierra to drop the weapon and began to back away from the teen to the back of his cruiser. Sierra, the report said, "raised the knife, pointed it at Officer Hood, increased his speed, and continued to advance."
Once Sierra was within 5 to 10 feed of Hood, the officer discharged his gun. Sierra, the report said, continued to advance and Hood shot an additional three rounds at the teen.
Hood has retained Leesburg attorney Charles King as counsel.
"Officer Hood wants to express his condolences to the family and friends of Christian Sierra. They're in his thoughts and his prayers. Because there's a pending claim with the town I'm not sure I can answer a lot of questions," King said.
Purcellville Police Chief Darryl Smith said today the Sierra family has also retained counsel, but so far the town has not been notified of any legal claims.
Hood has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, but is expected to return to work within a few weeks, Smith said.
Hood was not armed with a Taser at the time of the incident.
"Being familiar with the protocols of carrying a Taser, it would have been inappropriate for him to do so because when you're using non-lethal force to subdue someone you need to to have lethal backup in case you have a failure of the device," Plowman said.
Two additional officers were dispatched to the scene at the time of the incident. One officer, who had stopped at the corner of McDaniel and Frazer drives, did not see the shooting because he was told Sierra was running through the neighborhood.
The second officer arrived on Frazer Drive after Sierra was shot.
Sierra, the report said, was shot four times in the chest.
An autopsy said Sierra had stabbed himself 13 times in the head and neck and cut himself six times on his right wrist before he was shot.
Plowman said there was no indication that Sierra was under the influence of any illegal drugs or alcohol at the time of the shooting.
On the day of the shooting, Sierra was at a Frazer Drive home with friends watching a movie when he revealed he was having problems with his family and that he wanted to kill himself.
Sierra's friends had tried to console him to no avail, the report said.
At one point, one of the friends said she felt they were not getting anywhere with Sierra so she went upstairs and called a suicide hotline for help, but was put on hold.
Another friend called his father who asked if they should call police, but the friend said they "did not want to call the police because they had talked to Sierra and calmed him down." The friend said he thought if Sierra knew the police were involved it would "set him off."
Police had been called to Sierra's home at least 13 times between June 2009 and March 2014 for reports of disobedience with his parents, including physical altercations and refusing to go to school.
Sierra had suffered from mental health issues and was prescribed medication, although the report doesn't specify what he was taking. Sierra, the report said, frequently stopped taking his medication.
At one point, Sierra was being monitored by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Restorative Justice Program, a pre-trial diversionary program.
Between January 2012 and June 2013, Sierra had stayed in shelter care because of his behavior, the report said. On March 23, after Sierra threatened suicide, police called doctors at Cornwall Mental Health, who said police should try and get Sierra to voluntarily admit himself to the hospital.
The report said Sierra agreed to go to Cornwall with his father to be evaluated, but didn't go on to say whether he received treatment that day.
It's not clear why an emergency commitment process for Sierra was never initiated. The officer who responded to the home at that time may have felt it was not necessary.
"It's really quite frankly about conversations rather than making the right call at the right time," said Joe Wilson, director of Loudoun Mental Health, Substance Abuses and Developmental Services, speaking about mentally ill individuals in need of help in general. "It may have been that he didn't meet the threshold for an emergency commitment. The officer may have felt at that point and time that they didn't feel like they could do that."
A community in mourning
Purcellville Town Manager Robert Lohr, at a separate press conference today, said the community has embraced the Sierra family and has "never wavered in their support for this town and its police department."
"... Now, we look forward to a time of healing for Purcellville, the place we call home," Lohr said.
Hood was not armed with a Taser at the time of the shooting due to budgeting issues, Chief Smith said, nor had he undergone Crisis Intervention Training, although he had been schedule to attend prior to the shooting.
Crisis Intervention Training is not mandatory among officers in Loudoun County, but is encouraged, Smith said.
Officials speaking today on the shooting continued to reiterate that CIT likely would not have helped in this situation since Sierra came at Officer Hood so fast, giving him little time to react with anything but lethal force.
"We're very sad " No one would wish this on anybody. We don't come to work to hurt anybody. We come to work to serve the community ..." Smith said.
Full report below: