Sierra Wrongful Death Case Moves Closer to Trial

A hearing in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Christian Alberto Sierra, the 17-year-old Purcellville resident who was shot and killed by a Purcellville Police officer May 2014, was held in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Monday for a ruling on which pieces of information can be reviewed before trial.

Judge J. Howe Brown ruled that certain psychological records and testimony from doctors regarding Christian’s mental health in the years leading up to his death were relevant and should be provided for review by the defense team leading up to the six-day jury trial that is set to begin Oct. 28.

Jacqueline Kramer, an associate attorney with the Westlake Legal Group representing Sierra’s family, argued that the subpoena requests were overly broad and that the information they would turn up would “embarrass, injure and invade” Christian’s privacy.

Julia Judkins, the municipal law attorney representing the former town police officer, Timothy Hood, and the town, argued that the Sierras misrepresented the facts to her during her initial questioning in saying that Christian had minimal psychological treatment while growing up. She said that Christian actually had “lots of treatment” previously and that his parents “didn’t comply with mental illness treatment.”

She said Christian was “intent on committing suicide … He did so by running toward my officer with a knife,” she said.

On the afternoon of May 24, 2014, Christian, a junior at Loudoun Valley High School, cut himself with a 3-inch paring knife and threatened to kill himself outside his Frazer Drive home in Purcellville. A 2:14 p.m. 911 call brought Hood and an ambulance to the scene.

According to a March 2016 complaint made by Christian’s parents, Edwardo and Sandra, Hood knew the call was made for a mentally ill resident who was threatening suicide. They noted that Hood drove 40 feet past Christian, got out of his car, drew his gun, pointed it at Christian and began to yell at him.

Christian then stood up and began walking toward Hood, who, according to the complaint, “at no point” attempted to communicate with Christian or anyone else in the area and never attempted to use non-lethal force on him.

Hood then shot Christian at point-blank range “rapidly” four times in the chest and was heard saying, “it was a clean shoot.”

At 2:19 p.m., medical teams attempted reviving Christian, but soon pronounced him dead on the scene.

That incident prompted the Sierras to sue Hood, then-town Police Chief Darryl Smith, who has since retired, and the Town of Purcellville for $10.24 million for “sorrow, mental anguish and solace which include society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of Christian” and “reasonable funeral expenses.” They also sued for $1 million in punitive damages.

The Sierra’s lawsuit charges Hood and Smith with gross negligence and willful, wanton and reckless negligence; Hood with battery; and the town with negligence and for being responsible for Hood and Smith’s actions.

According to the Sierras’ complaint, Hood “exceeded his authority when he shot and killed Christian,” by violating town protocols on the use of force and encounters with mentally ill residents. “Hood escalated the situation and himself created the environment that led to his shooting and killing of Christian,” the complaint reads.

The couple claims that Smith did not sufficiently and properly train his officers on the use of deadly force, the interaction with mentally ill or suicidal residents and the use of non-lethal methods in such encounters.

They also claim that the town was negligent because it did not provide the police department with “less than lethal weapons” to use in those situations and allege that it should be held liable for the actions of its employees. “Upon learning of the actions of defendants Hood and Smith, the town took no adverse action and ratified the conduct of both defendants,” the complaint reads.

In response to the Sierras’ complaint, Smith moved for the court to throw the case out, noting that he’s protected by sovereign immunity—meaning that because the town could be deemed to be immune from civil suits, so could Smith’s actions.

According to Smith’s July 2016 memo, for the Sierras to overcome Smith’s request to drop the case, they would need to prove that he acted with a “degree of negligence which shows indifference to others as constitutes an utter disregard of prudence amounting to a complete neglect of the safety of another. It must be such a degree of negligence as would shock fair minded people although something less than willful recklessness.”

Monday’s ruling allowing Judkins the ability to review Christian’s psychological records prior to the trial wasn’t the first time the issue was debated.

In November, a judge ruled that Judkins could also access for review Christian’s psychiatric and psychological records from Loudoun Psychological Associates, granted the records didn’t date farther back than a year before his death.

Around that same time, a judge granted a request made by former Purcellville Police Lt. Joe Schroeck and former officer Guy Dinkins to disallow their employment records—dated from their start dates up until the shooting—from being accessed and reviewed by Kramer and her team.

pszabo@loudounnow.com

2 thoughts on “Sierra Wrongful Death Case Moves Closer to Trial

  • 2019-07-29 at 4:09 pm
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    This case (along with the COSTCO shooting) were the main reasons I ran for Commonwealth Attorney in the last election. Put yourself in the shoes of both the family and the police officer. They called the police because their son was threatening suicide. If I remember correctly the instruction to the police officer was to set up a perimeter and wait for backup as he approached (breached the 21 foot rule used to justify mortal response) the young man who was only threatening himself. Within seconds of arriving in a police cruiser without a functioning camera the shooting started. The policeman decided to kill the threatened suicide victim instead of getting back into his vehicle and waiting for backup. Put your own child in that situation and ask yourself what would you want to see happen. Did the officer get out of the car and ask how can I help or make demands to an obviously stressed out young man? Was the officer EVER at risk? NO! I received over 25000 votes countywide in the last election and now am an independent candidate for Chair of the Board of Supervisors. I received more votes than the current Chair”person” of the BOS but was unable to unseat Mr. Plowman who chose not to investigate this episode beyond accepting the State police conclusion it was a justified shooting. For me (with three sons any of which could have been in a similar situation) this is beyond heart wrenching. We respect the police for a difficult job which includes personal risk but when there is NO PERSONAL RISK there needs to be a cool head when dealing with a known situation (suicide threat) and the reality that when the cop breaches the 21 foot rule but can retreat SAFELY HE SHOULD rather than putting four bullets into a child or an extremely small seemingly deranged COSTCO employee with only a pair of scissors and five deputies. If the commonwealth Attorney . Office won’t address such violations of conscience then the Board of Supervisors must. These are stains on our very existence assuming we want Loudoun to be a civilized community with compassion for its children and struggling yet harmless adult residents. Vote on November 5th for better managed government!

  • 2019-07-31 at 1:57 pm
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    Once again we find the Town of Purcellville, Town Mayor Kwasi Fraser and the infamous “Purcellville Police Department” and their very unprofessional, untrained and rogue police officers at the center of DESTRUCTION of it’s citizens lives, at the center of DESTRUCTION of it’s fiduciary obligation and responsibilities to it’s citizens and at the center of DESTRUCTION (libel, defamation, slander) of it’s citizens reputations and careers including the latest victims, the Sierra family and their own Police Chief McAlister. To say the least they are consistent.

    The question begs: How long are the citizens of Purcellville going to wait before they “cut out” this “cancer” (by vote) eating away at their town, it’s reputation, it’s citizen’s reputations, it’s own employees reputation (McAlister and others), it’s bank accounts, and the murder and destruction of it’s citizens including it’s young teenagers like Christian Sierra? How many more town government initiated investigations of it’s own employees and police officers and how many more millions of dollars of it’s citizens tax payers money will be spent before the citizens of Purcellville exercise their right to vote and cut this tumor out once and for all starting with the Mayor and at least half of the “old guard” police force and they know who they are and so do it’s citizens? I can see the sign now at the beginning of Town…Welcome to Purcellville…No absence of Malice here!

    To date the Town (really it’s citizens) has spent millions of dollars on internal investigations, millions of dollars on needless attorney’s fees, millions of dollars in insurance costs (with the Towns Premiums skyrocketing out of control…a very newsworthy story in itself) all the while the very spineless Mayor Fraser and the Town council remain silent and derelict with no accountability as well as the root cause “good ole boys” cops who are OUT OF CONTROL. Where are the good news reporters in this town? Where are the challengers to these feathers in the wind? I thought we were a government of checks and balances…apparently not! Had these actions taken place in a corporation and not a government, then the cancer and surrounding tissue would have been quickly removed. Instead, because this is a government with no leadership, the malignancy has been allowed to remain and grow causing even further destruction…

    With millions already waisted and spent, we now have two large law suits pending and looming against the town with chief McAlister’s 16 million and the Sierra’s 10 million wrongful Death suit and from what I understand several more suits to follow regarding the beleaguered police force. Can you imagine any company out there that would insure this Town? Oh well I guess we will have to rely on it’s citizen’s to self insure and pay for it by increasing taxes.

    Mcalister deserves every penny she’s asking for as well as the Sierra family. McAlister had her reputation smeared but the Sierra family had their son murdered by an untrained, rookie cop (Officer Hood) who should have never been hired in the first place based on his past military record and PTSD issues. Ironically Police chief McAlister who was hired after the shooting death of Christian Sierra to clean up the town’s beleaguered police force quickly fired Hood and others for conduct unbecoming and several other untoward behaviors and actions. Before McAlister could finish cleaning house the other’s conspired against her and the gutless and spineless Mayor Fraser went along with them like a feather in the wind afraid to be an Executive and take a stand!

    Since fired, Hood has somehow slithered his way onto the Haymarket police force under the radar with obviously no background check and now endangers the lives if it’s young citizens…Haymarket citizens BEWARE!

    If Mayor Fraser and the Town Council want to salvage their reputations and salvage the town’s reputation and finally protect the citizen’s of Purcellville, then they need to take a stand and cut out the malignancy plaguing it’s Police Department once and for all. I applaud Chief McAlister for starting the process…she named and fired some of the individual malignancies that were responsible for the cancer: Hood, Schroeck, Dinkins, McDaniel, Kakol, Elassal, Wagner and Vasconi have got to go! Also their young protégés Dickson and Fraley are beset and poisoned to follow their lead and their unprofessional and dangerous behaviors will bring more liability to the town soon.

    Purcellville Mayor Fraser and Town Council…Stop the Madness!

    Settle these two law suits out of court quietly and do laser surgery on your police force once and for all and don’t leave a single tumor behind before the disease spreads! Stop fighting and litigating these cases needlessly. Be responsible and protect all of the citizens of Purcellville on both sides!

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