Questions linger around Taft Sellers’ death

Questions linger around Taft Sellers’ death
(Melissa Quinn)

By Derrick Perkins

Police Chief Earl Cook released little new information about the shooting death of Taft Sellers during a Monday press conference as speculation — and calls for more details — increased.

Sellers, 30, died at the hands of officers responding to a domestic call in an Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority complex on the 3400 block of Duke St. on February 18. Cook said the incident began with a “family disagreement.”

An individual involved in the dispute alerted police — the department’s headquarters is within eyesight of the scene — and told authorities Sellers was armed, the chief said. But little more is known about the events surrounding the demise of the former Marine and T.C. Williams graduate.

Pressed on how many officers were involved, how many fired their weapons, the number of shots fired, the make and model of Sellers’ firearm, and whether he used it, Cook either said he did not know or could not release that information. Instead, the police chief outlined the steps forward for local authorities, including a criminal investigation followed by an internal inquiry.

Officials repeatedly pledged to release more information after the investigation — the officers involved are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome — but Cook said the work could take several weeks to complete.

For Sellers’ friends like Andy Green, delay is difficult to accept. After growing up alongside Sellers, Green struggles to reconcile the upstanding former military man he knew with the manner of his death.

“[Sellers] was cleared at the highest levels, and he’s an expert in security. That’s one of the reasons I’m so upset about this whole thing,” Green said. “I cannot fathom him being that stupid. It doesn’t add up. That’s why I’m so upset that the police are not releasing details.”

While Green wants answers, he stressed that his motivation did not stem from animosity toward the police department. An incident like this shouldn’t happen in Alexandria, he said.

“I’m certainly not out for a witch hunt,” Green said. “I’m not saying there is a cover-up here … but the police report needs to come out in a timely manner, like this year, not next year, not 10 years from now, not [after paying] $1,000 an hour to go through city records.”

Green isn’t alone in wondering what led to Sellers’ death, but others like Laura Benavidez are preaching patience. Benavidez helps moderate the Facebook page dedicated to Sellers and assisted organizing last week’s fundraiser for his family.

Nobody knows what happened, she said, and the unsubstantiated rumors aren’t helping the family or the police investigation.

“All this speculation — all this and all that — that’s going to hurt the people that love him; that’s going to hurt the investigation,” Benavidez said. “It’s just not making it any easier when people are putting blogs up, putting this up and that up.”

The stories she has heard run the gamut from Sellers’ death stemming from a rookie officer’s twitchy trigger finger to police intentionally targeting him. Benavidez also wants to get to the bottom of the incident but not at the expense of Sellers’ loved ones.

They gathered Wednesday for Sellers’ funeral, which was at the Antioch Baptist Church. Like others who knew him, Benavidez recalled the T.C. Williams graduate as an outgoing and giving person.

“Taft was friendly to everyone, if you needed help he was always there,” she said. “That’s just how he was, that’s just the type of guy he was.”

Cook publicly extended his sympathies to the family Monday, telling reporters he had been in touch with them and offered them the department’s full support.

“I’ve been in constant contact with the family as they deal with this difficult situation and offered my support, and the department’s support, in any way we can while the investigation is ongoing,” he said. “A police-involved shooting is a traumatic experience for everyone involved, but I can assure you no police officer ever wants to be put in that situation where the outcome ends the life of a human being.”