Taft Sellers, shot dead by Alexandria police, was mentally ill and off his meds, police say

October 11, 2013

After Alexandria city police shot and killed former Marine Taft Sellers outside his apartment building in February, there were investigations by the police and prosecutor into whether the shooting was justified. Both ruled that it was. But we never knew why a well-liked young man would tell police he had a gun, show them the gun, refuse to put the gun down when surrounded, and then point the loaded gun at the officers, effectively committing “suicide by cop.”

Alexandria Police Chief Earl L. Cook (City of Alexandria)
Alexandria Police Chief Earl L. Cook (City of Alexandria)

Now Alexandria police have supplied a possible answer. It’s not surprising. Sellers was being treated for depression but had not taken any medication for four days before the shooting, according to a report by Erich Wagner in Thursday’s Alexandria Times. This formally adds Sellers to the growing list of people involved in violent incidents who likely were fueled in some way by mental illness.

The information emerged last week in a meeting of Alexandria’s Human Rights Commission, during a presentation by Alexandria Police Lt. Monica Lisle of the internal investigations unit, Wagner reported. On Feb. 18, Sellers, 30, had gotten in an argument with his sister, she called police and told them her brother had a gun, it was later revealed. Officers spoke with Sellers for about eight minutes, asking him to put the gun down, and then he raised it with both hands, and seven officers opened fire, according to a very detailed report issued by Commonwealth’s Attorney Randolph Sengel in July.

Sengel’s report made a brief mention that “Several who knew Sellers described his struggle with depression,” but did not say he was being treated for the disease or was off his medication. Sengel also noted that Sellers “had sent an e-mail to friends and family which strongly implied that he was going to commit suicide,” though that was not known to the officers who responded to the Duke Street scene and shot him. Someone who received the e-mail apparently called 911 about 90 seconds before Sellers was shot, Lisle said.

Lisle told the human rights commission that Sellers had a history of mental health issues, and was between depression medications. He had been taken off one medication four days before the shooting and was waiting for a new medication to arrive by mail order.

The commissioners pushed back on the police’s view that officers needed to shoot Sellers during the standoff, asking whether the officers were properly positioned and whether a trained negotiator had been summoned. Police Chief Earl Cook told them there wasn’t enough time to set up properly before Sellers aimed his Glock 19 9×19 mm 15-shot handgun at the officers. Wagner’s full story is here. Sengel’s report is here.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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Mark Berman · October 11, 2013