Just 10 seconds before an unarmed Lynchburg man was shot by police in his home, a small team of officers — standing at the home’s front door with guns drawn — first announced their presence.
“Lynchburg Police Department, if anyone is in the residence, make yourself known now!” Officer Austin Rowland, a rookie cop, can be heard shouting in body camera footage released Friday.
A muffled shout of “what” can be heard coming from inside the home.
“Lynchburg police, if you’re in the residence make yourself known,” Rowland repeated.
Suddenly the door, slightly ajar, slams closed. A metal mail slot clangs shut. And two officers standing beside Rowland — Edward Ferron and Savannah Simmons — pull their triggers.
In an instant, four bullets fly toward the home. One round narrowly misses the man inside but another, fired by Simmons, strikes the blue wooden door and hits the homeowner standing on the other side.
Bryan Porter, the special prosecutor in the criminal case against two of the officers, released body-worn camera footage from the officer-involved shooting, which occurred on Link Road last year in the early morning hours of Feb 17. The two videos each run 26 seconds long and are from the perspective of Ferron, 42, and Simmons, 22.
The footage briefly shows the quiet moments before the shooting, as the officers inch behind each other toward the home to investigate a suspected burglary. After a hail of bullets are shot into the house, Ferron can be seen standing still with his weapon pointed at the door. Simmons quickly turns and appears to runs from the home.
The shooting left the man inside, Walker Sigler, badly injured. The bullet pierced his right thigh and shattered his femur. Just moments earlier he had been awoken by the police commands but, groggy and confused, believed the sound was coming from his wife upstairs. When he saw pistols pointed into the house he quickly tried to close the door, according to a statement of facts released by Porter.
After he was rushed to the hospital, Sigler underwent an emergency surgery to save his leg. Blood loss from the wound “would permanently take the vision in his left eye and severely disrupt the vision in his right eye,” John E. Lichtenstein, Sigler’s attorney, said in a statement Friday.
“This never should have happened,” Lichtenstein said. “Mr. Sigler has suffered devastating and disabling injuries. He and his family are deeply and permanently affected.”
Virginia State Police investigated the shooting and Ferron and Simmons were later indicted on three felonies: reckless handling of a firearm resulting in seriously bodily injury, unlawful wounding and unlawful shooting at an occupied domicile. Prosecutors alleged police, concerned about a possible break-in, attempted to make a warrantless entry into the home based solely on an open front door.
Last month, the two officers each pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless handling of a firearm— a reduced charge reached in a plea agreement with prosecutors.
As part of the agreement, Ferron and Simmons will avoid jail time but will serve 100 hours of community service. The two officers are now on administrative leave without pay as police work to complete an internal investigation. It is unclear when the probe may conclude. In a short statement Friday, police said the investigation is ongoing.
Ferron and Simmons maintain they did nothing wrong the night of the shooting. In court last month, their attorneys said the commotion of the slammed door caused the officers to believe they were under attack. Chuck Felmlee, Ferron’s attorney, said the closing of the metal mail slot resembled the sound of a gunshot.
“This incident highlights the fact that police officers around the country are asked to make split-second, life-changing decisions every day, often based on limited and incomplete information available at the time,” Lynchburg police said in a statement shortly after the plea agreement last month.
Prosecutors said the shooting was the result of a failure by police to consider other options to investigate the suspected break-in. The tactical entry, Porter argued, should have been made only if there was direct evidence of an emergency.
The officers “observed no other fact or circumstance that suggested a burglary, such as a broken window, another sign of forced entry, a burglar alarm, a call from a neighbor or cries for help from inside the Sigler residence,” Porter wrote in court documents. “The sole reason for the decision to make tactical entry was the conjunction of three facts: an open door of a residence at night.”