Fairfax police knew that man shot by officer is mentally ill

Ian C. Smith of Herndon, seen here with his sister Hayley, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.
Ian C. Smith of Herndon, seen here with his sister Hayley, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. (Family Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Herndon man who was shot by a Fairfax County police officer last week was known by police to be severely mentally ill, and he was wielding a plastic replica of a pistol when he was shot at close range in the chest and stomach, police and family members said.

Ian C. Smith, 25, remains in critical condition at Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he has undergone four operations to repair the damage from two .45-caliber bullets. He was shot Friday morning in the basement of the home he shares with his parents and younger sister on Fallon Drive after a three-hour standoff with Fairfax tactical officers overseen by a police major with extensive experience dealing with the mentally ill.

But Smith's family said the officers reacted rashly by even entering the basement.

"The cop had no reason to do what he did," said Brenda Smith, Ian Smith's mother. "He isn't a murderer out on the street. He was a kid down in his basement having a psychotic attack."

Police said Smith emerged from behind a bathroom door, lunged at two officers and began pulling the trigger of his plastic BB gun. The officer did not know it wasn't a real gun, police said. "It's tragic. My heart goes out to them," said Maj. Shawn Barrett, head of the Fairfax criminal investigations bureau, who did not oversee the situation that day but is the lead investigator.

But he said the gun Smith was holding was "a very realistic-looking replica of a semiautomatic pistol" that did not have a brightly colored tip, which would have indicated that the gun was fake.

Barrett said Smith "pulled that weapon out and pointed it point blank at the officers and was pulling the trigger. At that point, the officer just responds when it's him or the other person. The [tactical] officer reverts to his training. They did everything they could."

Smith's relatives were ordered by police to leave the house as soon as officers arrived, late on Feb. 4. They wondered why, with the house empty and no one else in danger, the two tactical officers entered the house and confronted Smith so soon.

Police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said that negotiators had not made contact with Smith in some time and that they thought he might have been asleep. So Maj. Thomas Ryan, supervising the operation, ordered two tactical officers, one with a dog, to go inside quietly in hopes of taking Smith into custody without violence, police said.

The name of the officer who fired the shots was not released. Fairfax police typically do not identify officers involved in shootings. The shooting of Smith was the second in recent months to involve a mentally ill man. On Nov. 13, another unidentified officer shot and killed David A. Masters, 52, as Masters rolled away from a traffic stop on Route 1.

The officers in the Masters case did not know he had bipolar disorder. But Fairfax police had been regular visitors to Smith's home to deal with his paranoid schizophrenia, his family and police said.

Smith was 17 when he began having hallucinations, said his father, Alan Smith. He graduated from Westfield High School, but when he tried to enter college in Richmond, he had a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for the first of many times, his father said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company