Police officers indicted in killing of Colorado man who made heart symbols as they approached
Fatal shooting of New Zealand-born Christian Glass has alarmed crisis intervention experts
A grand jury has indicted two Colorado sheriff's deputies in the death of a 22-year-old man who was shot after calling 911 for roadside assistance while experiencing what his mother described as a mental health crisis, according to online court records.
The indictments of former Clear Creek County Sheriff's deputies Andrew Buen and Kyle Gould were returned Wednesday, five months after Christian Glass, 22, was killed by law enforcement. The case has become a flashpoint amid a national outcry for police reforms focused on crisis intervention and de-escalation.
It has also garnered international attention. Glass was born to British and Kiwi parents in New Zealand before the family moved to the U.S., and diplomatic officials in both New Zealand and Great Britain have written to state officials to express their concern and interest in the circumstances of the case, per a report earlier this year from Colorado Public Radio.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has met privately with Glass's parents, offering his condolences and calling it a tragedy that "should never have happened," according to a statement obtained by a local news outlet in September.
Charges against the two deputies include second-degree murder for Buen, criminally negligent homicide for Gould, as well as reckless endangerment and official misconduct charges, according to court records.
'A hole in my heart'
Late on June 10, Glass called the police because his car had become stuck on an embankment.
Videos shared with The Associated Press show Glass refusing to come out of his car while also telling police he's "terrified" and making heart shapes with his hands to officers. At one point, he also can be seen praying with folded hands and saying, "Dear Lord, please, don't let them break the window."
WARNING: Video contains scenes some viewers may find disturbing:
Officers talked to Glass to try to persuade him to leave the car. After more than an hour of negotiations, police said in a press release in June that Glass was being "argumentative and unco-operative" before they broke the passenger window and removed a knife from the vehicle.
Glass offered to throw two other knives out of the window but the video shows officers telling him not to. His family has said he was a geology enthusiast who carried knives and tools on his excursions.
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Once the window was shattered, Glass seemed to panic and grabbed a second knife. Police then shot Glass with bean bag rounds and shocked him with a stun gun. The footage shows Glass twisting in his seat and thrusting a knife toward an officer who approaches the rear driver window. Then another officer fired his gun, hitting Glass six times, according to the autopsy report.
Glass never left the vehicle during the entire encounter.
During a September news conference, Glass's mother, Sally Glass, said her son suffered from depression, had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and was "having a mental health episode" the night he was killed.
"I have a hole in my heart, and it will be there until the day I die," she said.
An autopsy report revealed that Glass had THC, a 0.01 per cent blood alcohol concentration and amphetamine in his system, the last of which family attorney Siddhartha Rathod said was likely from an ADHD prescription.
Christian Glass should still be alive today.<br><br>While a grand jury is a step closer to justice, we must do more to hold police accountable.<a href="https://t.co/Ai8svxB9t5">https://t.co/Ai8svxB9t5</a>—@ACLUofColorado
'Real red flags' in police response: experts
Use-of-force and de-escalation experts who reviewed the footage for The Associated Press in recent weeks said the case is an example of when a behavioural health specialist or crisis response team — programs becoming increasingly popular across the country — may have helped de-escalate the situation and avert Glass's death.
In Denver and New York, among other jurisdictions, behavioural health specialists are sent to 911 callers facing crises that police may not be trained to address, or could even exacerbate.
"There are some real red flags that suggest potential problems," said Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and leading use-of-force expert who reviewed portions of the footage. Stoughton testified in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd in Minnesota.
While police officers may be justified in using force once a situation has intensified, "it's everything that we do before that in terms of de-escalation that can make those situations go a completely different direction," said Tamara Lynn, the executive council president for the National De-Escalation Training Center, who reviewed the footage.
Officers have been fired
Both Lynn and Stoughton questioned why officers didn't take Glass up on his offer, recorded by body camera footage, to disarm himself by throwing his knives out of his car window.
While a thrown knife can pose a threat, "officers have plenty of opportunity to manouevre themselves and put themselves in a position that's not risky," Stoughton told AP in September. "I am kind of astonished that they did not take advantage of what looked like a very clear opportunity to have him separate himself from the weapons."
Stoughton also wondered why they needed to break the car window.
"It's not clear to me that it should have gone that far," he said.
A federal judge has issued warrants for both Buen and Gould, who face bonds of $50,000 US and $2,500, respectively, according to a press release Wednesday from Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum, who empanelled the grand jury.
Nichole Lentz, spokesperson for the Clear Creek County Sheriff, said in a statement that both officers have been terminated following the indictments.
The sheriff office's ongoing internal investigation found "policy and procedural failures," Lentz said, adding that the office's initial news release following the shooting "does not reflect the entirety of what happened on that terrible night."
With files from CBC News