Watchdog group agrees Sellers’ death was justified, but calls police actions ‘excessive’


By Derrick Perkins

Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability, a leading critic of the investigation into Taft Sellers’ death, announced Monday that it supports the decision to not press criminal charges against the officers involved in the shooting.

Sellers, 30, died in February after an armed confrontation with police officers on the 3400 block of Duke St. Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing last week, releasing a 30-page report detailing the incident and explaining his conclusions.

As soon as Sellers aimed his loaded handgun at officers, he presented a clear threat to their lives, Sengel determined. The officers, who fired 37 shots and hit Sellers five times, were justified in killing the former Marine, according to Sengel.

The coalition, led by former Washington detective Nicholas Beltrante, agreed with Sengel’s findings in a statement released Monday morning.

“The [coalition] believes there was overwhelming evidence provided to Sengel that Sellers aimed his gun at officers, who reasonably feared for their safety and fired in self-defense,” the group wrote, thanking Sengel for making his report public.

But the coalition criticized the officers involved for their individual actions, calling their response to Sellers — who did not fire his weapon — “excessive, unnecessary and unreasonable under the circumstances.”

Citing its examination of the scene, the group wrote: “Bullet holes were visible many feet away from where Sellers was standing. This is clear evidence there was the reckless firing of weapons by some of the officers on the scene.”

Sengel preemptively addressed the criticism of excessive force in his report and in interviews with reporters after its release. While 37 shots were fired in a 10-second span, the officers could not know exactly what their colleagues were up to and act simultaneously in a high-stress situation. They must be judged individually, he argued.

While the officers have been absolved of any criminal charges, the police department has launched an internal investigation. The focus will be on whether they followed agency guidelines, said Lt. Mark Bergin, a department spokesman.

“We have our own internal policies and procedures that are completely separate from criminal law,” he said. “Without going through the thousands of pages [of policies], we look at what the officers did and make sure that they did it right by our standards.”

Bergin expects the department to announce when its internal review is finished — but likely without publicizing the results. It’s impossible to know when that might be, he said. He did not release the full names of the officers involved, though Sengel referenced them by their surnames in his report.

The police watchdog coalition, which has weighed in on several police-involved shootings since its inception following the 2009 death of David Masters in Fairfax County, has been a vocal critic of the case’s handling. Beltrante unsuccessfully pushed authorities to involve the state police — as well as to convene a special grand jury and appoint a special prosecutor — to oversee the investigation.



  1. Excessive!?!?! Really? An armed suicidal gunman points a loaded gun at them and their actions are called excessive? No such thing! Deadly force is deadly force. It’s ridiculous a police “watch group” can critic the police when they have no experience in police work or such types of stressful situations. The Alextimes should not post this bs on their front page. Why not a tribute to the police officers who bravely go to calls involving armed people and have to live with their correct decision to protect themselves by taking a life?

    If you are the shooting site you can see why a lot of shots missed- Mr. Sellers was posted in a walkway between two brick walls. Most of the officers did not have a clear shot at him (although safe since he was surrounded by brick). This isn’t the movies people, shootings happen fast and are not easy to hit a real life target.

    The Alexandria Police continue to show their professionalism.

  2. National Institute of Justice: ~ Five Things Law Enforcement Executives Can Do To Make A Difference.

    DoD study on random polygraphs for personnel.

    “the polygraph is the single most effective tool for finding information people were trying to hide.” – DIA, NSA.

    Make policy that polygraphs for all new hires expire every 2-5yrs.

    California laws strengthened wall of silence among officers.

    The honest, brave officers with integrity deserve better.

    And so does the public.

    Wherever you are in the World, in your own jurisdictions, in your own capacity, you can do something, anything, just one thing. And make a difference.

    Break the code. Break the culture.

  3. Alextimes really posted the opinion of this watch group as being excessive? Geez, no wonder why Alexandria Police are hesitant to release information to the media- they get slandered even when they did nothing wrong. It’s sad this guy forced the hands of the officers.