Editorial: Police must provide information on troubling deaths

(File Photo)

Tragedy struck Alexandria twice in the past week. Two local men died unexpectedly: one at the hands of a murderer and the other gunned down after an armed confrontation with police officers.

Both incidents shook the community and left residents with questions. Why did this happen? How did this happen? What could have been done differently?

These questions will linger until the details surrounding the murder of Elmer “Joe” Roehrs and the shooting death of Taft Sellers are made public. And whether that information is ever made public will be up to the men and women of the Alexandria Police Department as well as the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Virginia’s law enforcement officials are notoriously stingy when it comes to releasing information. But city police spokesman Jody Donaldson told the Times he expects to release more information, at least about the circumstances surrounding Sellers’ death, in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic [that the department will release more information],” he said. “We’ll be able to share more as soon as we get the information and the commonwealth’s attorney’s ruling on the shooting.”

While every death is a tragedy, Sellers’ should weigh heavily on the public’s mind. After all, the very officers who were sworn to protect and serve residents shot Sellers. This is not to say officers deserve blame for the incident — or accuse them of wrongdoing — but the public should expect answers.

We learn from our mistakes, and we, as a community, must learn from Sellers’ death. If he forced the officers’ hands, what motivated him to do so? Could the officers have acted differently to diffuse the situation? Were there any missed warning signs in the days leading up to the shooting?

Again, more questions without answers so far. As Donaldson explained, getting a fuller picture will have to wait on criminal and internal investigations, toxicology results, and a review by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

In the meantime, we have to take Donaldson’s word that the department will eventually outline what happened in a quiet apartment complex on the corner of Duke Street and Arell Court earlier this week — and why.

We can wait. We can be patient. But we certainly won’t forget. The answers are too important to let these deaths go by the wayside.



  1. Sure the police should be transparent… But the outrage that I have heard in this community is miguided. You know who does not get shot by police? People who are not holding a gun infront of them. Hate to break it down and make it seem more simple than it probably is, but the easy way to stay out of these type of situations is to behave in a way that will not create this type of reaction.

    • I do understand why someone is outraged that a knuckle head with a gun got shot down by the police. You challenge the police with a gun you die. Simple as that. His past is erased the second he points a gun at an officer. Thanks to the police nobody else was shot by this fool.

  2. He was at his own house. Virginia law lets you own a gun and carry a gun. Just owning a gun isn’t a reason to get shot. This was a guy who was a Marine security guard at African embassies and volunteered with at-risk kids here in Alexandria. I think you’re way off-base, Taft was a really good guy.

    • From what I have heard about Taft, he was a really decent guy, who was depressed and then did something really stupid. The police and fire depts had been to the home the previous day as well, so the family obviously knew Taft was having some issues. Why did they not get him the help he obviously needed? Perhaps someone needs to ask that question as well…Unfortunately once the police get involved and there are weapons involved, it will not end well for the perpetrator with the weapon and rightfully so…if someone is to get hurt, it certainly should not be the police or an innocent bystander.

  3. Andrew I see you are letting your emotions control your judgements I don’t care what he did in his past as soon as he threatens the police those go out the window. Good guy or not at that moment he was a bad guy and a threat the police eliminated the threat.

  4. So the police are always right? How do you know he pointed the gun unless you were there? If you believe that police have the right to end a life no matter the circumstance, you are misguided. Did Oscar grant and Sean bell deserve to be shot? Or countless others that never get on the news. Disobey the police and you die? Get your head out of your rectum.

    • Joe the police have said he had a weapon and pointed at them. You would rather an officer die than a violent crazy man with a gun? They responded to a domestic call with reports of a man with a weapon. They responded accordingly. Witnesses have already told the press they say him with a gun what more do you need?