Note raises issue of suicide

Ellicott City man might have taunted police into shooting

February 02, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

A knife-wielding man who was shot and killed by a Howard County police officer Jan. 19 in Ellicott City was carrying a suicide note, police said yesterday, raising new questions about the man's behavior.

Employees at G.L. Shacks Grill on Old Annapolis Road called police about 1: 30 p.m., saying John Sierra, 39, was being disorderly and had a knife. When Sgt. A. J. Bellido de Luna approached him in a nearby parking lot, Sierra brandished a knife and, witnesses said, taunted the officer. Bellido de Luna shot Sierra once in the chest from about 10 feet away.

"It looked like he was picking a fight," said Dr. Robert Baldwin, 37, who works at Dorsey Hall Medical Center, next to G.L. Shacks Grill. "He was waving his hands in a way that seemed like he was taunting" Bellido de Luna.

Although Sierra was carrying a suicide note, that does not mean he planned the shooting, said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a police spokesman.

"He had a note on him, and it [made] reference to suicide, [but] I'm not sure it was Sierra's intent to have a police officer kill him," Carroll said.

Carroll would not provide details about the note.

Police officials have said Bellido de Luna, a 10-year veteran, reacted appropriately to what they believe was a life-threating situation.

Sierra's family disagreed, saying police acted too harshly toward someone they say was a peaceful, family man.

"They have to say that" the shooting was justified, said Wilfredo Perez Sr., Sierra's father-in-law. "What else are they going to say?"

Sierra, his wife and 5-year-old son lived with Perez's family in Ellicott City, 1 1/2 miles from the site of the shooting.

Perez said he had no knowledge of the suicide note. Sierra was excited about a job he was going to start in Columbia the Monday after the shooting, he said.

"He just stayed here and played with his son and went to the movies with his wife," Perez said. "He never carried a knife. He was a very quiet man. He didn't even drink."

Perez said Sierra was a stockbroker in Puerto Rico before coming to Columbia a year ago to look for a better job.

Witnesses said Sierra, who was drinking at the bar, complied with police orders but then picked up his knife and moved toward the officer, despite several requests from Bellido de Luna to stop.

Perez said the police had other alternatives.

"They could call backup; they have Mace," said Perez. "They have all these things."

Bellido de Luna returned from administrative leave last week. Howard County police officials are concluding an internal investigation, the results of which will be sent to the state's attorney's office, which also will conduct an investigation.

A suicide note "would certainly be a factor, but you really don't have any idea until you see the case," said Deputy State's Attorney Dario J. Broccolino, who will handle the case.

The last time a county police officer fatally shot someone was in April 1996 when a Clarksville man brandished a gun at an officer. Officials determined that the shooting was justified.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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