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Shooting of Cody man deemed ‘absolutely’ justified

County attorney finds Cody officer acted appropriately in October incident

A Cody police officer had no other options when he fatally shot 34-year-old Jared Christen on Oct. 11, says Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric.

Christen emerged from his home’s basement that night extremely drunk and firing rounds from a semi-automatic rifle, bringing a violent end to a standoff with officers who originally sought to speak with him about alleged domestic abuse, says a summary of the incident composed by Skoric.

Christen fired a total of 13 rounds from a Colt AR-15 style rifle, including several bullets that narrowly missed officers, Skoric said. The prosecutor said there was “no question” that Christen intended to kill police and ruled Officer Trapp Heydenberk was justified in shooting the armed man.

“The use of deadly force was clearly and legally justified, as Officer Heydenberk as well as the other officers were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, and deadly force was necessary to repel that danger,” Skoric wrote in a review of the shooting released Monday. “Officer Heydenberk, a 13-year law enforcement veteran, faced a situation that left him with no other options.”

Skoric’s review was based on the findings of a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation probe into the shooting; such independent reviews are standard procedure in any shooting involving a police officer. As part of that standard procedure, Heydenberk was on leave during the review.

The following is a summary of the review released by Skoric:

At 10 p.m. on Oct. 11, Christen’s wife called 911. She reported that her husband was throwing furniture, putting holes in the walls of their River View Drive residence, pushing her and “flipping out.”

The first Cody police officer, John Harris, arrived at the home two minutes later. Heydenberk and Officer Chris Wallace arrived a minute after Harris.

Christen was standing in the doorway, but he retreated into the home after seeing Harris, slamming the door behind him. As Harris spoke with Christen’s wife, Christen opened the door and cursed at the officer, but went back inside.

Heydenberk and Harris then began a conversation with Christen from the doorway. Upon determining he was in the basement, Harris got the man’s 4-year-old son from an upstairs bedroom and out of the home.

Christen and his 13- and 10-year-old sons refused to come out of the basement. Given Christen’s agitated state and the multiple firearms in the house, Heydenberk and Harris decided not to enter the basement, but they kept speaking to him for nearly an hour.

Ultimately, Christen said someone was going to die. Heydenberk responded that it didn’t have to happen that way, but the officers then heard a firearm’s action being opened and closed. Christen stopped speaking with police, and the officers backed onto the home’s porch.

At 11:01 p.m., Christen fired four shots from the rifle up the stairs. Two of the rounds passed through a piano and out the east side of the residence.

Heydenberk and Park County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Torczon took cover.

Christen, still coming up the basement stairs, then let loose a volley of nine rounds. The bullets passed through a stairway bannister, into the side of a couch and out the front door and north wall of the residence. At least three of the rounds tore through the front of the house where Heydenberk and Torczon had been standing just seconds earlier.

Christen then appeared in the front door of the home, holding the still-loaded rifle. He refused Heydenberk’s order to show his hands, and the officer opened fire with his pistol, hitting Christen four times.

The shooting unfolded in about a half-minute.

Christen was pronounced dead at West Park Hospital at 11:36 p.m. Toxicology reports later showed that Christen had a blood alcohol level of .242. At that level of intoxication, people can have severe motor impairment and lose consciousness, in addition to impaired judgment.

Citing Christen’s statement that someone needed to die, his being armed and firing shots in the direction of the officers, “there should be no question ... that Christen’s intent was to kill law enforcement officers,” Skoric wrote.

Nine other firearms, including an SKS semi-automatic rifle, were recovered from the home. Broken dresser drawers and a hole in a basement wall corroborated Christen’s wife’s original call to 911, Skoric said.

Christen had no prior criminal charges outside of a traffic citation, according to state court records accessed by the Tribune. In an interview, Skoric said Christen was familiar to law enforcement from a few occasions where officers were dispatched to his home for domestic problems.

“I think there was (a pattern) and certainly nothing that had ever escalated to this point,” he said.

Christen’s name was mentioned in a July 24, 2009 Cody police log when his wife reported he was “drunk and acting crazy” and had kicked in a door. She filed for a protection order against Christen in August 2010. The woman cited a July 18, 2010 incident in which a drunk Christen allegedly pushed her, broke her phone and threatened her life after “something set him off.”

“We have had these kind of episodes in the past,” she wrote in documents filed in Park County’s Circuit Court. “There tends to be a pattern with the drinking, crazy behavior and at times such as this, I fear for my life.”

The incident culminated in Christen grabbing a large kitchen knife and stabbing the couch before putting it away, she wrote.

“I felt like he wanted me to know that my life was in his hands,” she said. “I never want me or my children in a situation with him drinking ever again!”

The Park County Sheriff’s office tried twice to serve Christen with the protection order, but couldn’t find him. With no further action able to be taken, the case was dismissed in October 2010.

A note in the case file from Circuit Court staff paraphrases a Crisis Intervention Services worker as saying that “Mrs. Christen will not serve/file again... unless he starts to bother her again.”

Speaking of the Oct. 11 shooting, Skoric said it was unfortunate that Christen’s decision to effectively start a “gun battle” with police affected his children, wife and law enforcement.

“You involve a lot of people when you decide to do something like that,” he said.

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14 comments

  • posted by quad city

    December 15, 2011 8:26 am

    I got a joke. What's the difference between a disgusted taxpayer and a RINO? A Rino will tell you what you wanna hear then do the opposite. A disgusted taxpayer will tell you what you wanna hear then do nothing.

  • posted by Quad City

    December 15, 2011 8:12 am

    Thanks for proving my point exactly.

  • posted by Disgusted Taxpayer

    December 14, 2011 3:46 pm

    HYPOCRITE...? HAHAHA... goes with the territory,pal,especially in Powell,the city of RINO's. Next joke.

  • posted by quad city

    December 13, 2011 3:37 pm

    @ Disgusted Tax - quit being a hypocrite. "Instead of calling me names,you all need to look in the mirror." Every single one of your rants on these comment boards are filled with name calling towards people (mostly local govt officials). Your mirror must be busted. They're on sale at Pamida.

  • posted by Are You Kidding

    December 11, 2011 4:53 pm

    Awww Taxpayer!!! You make so many negative comments about everything here and in the Cody Eneterprise; then when people challenge you; you pout and think everyone is calling you names!!! Well, yep I've been shot at too, and if you're using your time in the military (if in fact you were in active duty) as an example of when you were shot at; then go back and think: did you carry a M-1, .45 cal pistol, or 12 ga.??? Or did you carry flash bangs and tear-gas?? Get real, accept that people are tired of your nonsense and unless you were a front-row witness and are ready to tell everyone all about how wrong this was and what really went on--shut up!!! Oh one other thing--there is a feature on your computer called "spell and grammar check"; you may want to start using it!!!! So much easier to accept and believe posts from someone who seems to have grammar sense--you certainly do NOT!!!!

  • posted by Larry L. Roberts

    December 11, 2011 10:56 am

    God Bless those that go in harms way to make sure the rest of us are safe! This suspect left the officer with no other choice than to use deadly force. If anyone doubts that than I'm sure you have never been shot at before. Thank
    God the officer that was placed in that position reacted exactly the way he was trained and everyone but the suspect is OK.

  • posted by John G

    December 10, 2011 10:55 am

    I do not live in Wyo or the USA but I know officers in your LE. A more professional and able body of people I have never met. I hope the officer has teh support he will need and I am sure all regret the shooting, but sometimes, regrettably, you have to shoot to stop.

  • posted by Salty Dawg

    December 09, 2011 10:47 am

    Where do you people think the LEA get their training and ideas from,cracker jack box? Flash bangs and tear gas were used in the military before any law ever got hold of it.

  • posted by Disgusted Taxpayer

    December 08, 2011 7:44 pm

    OK,you bloodthirsty wannabes,I have been shot at plenty,even hit,so can the crusader BS.I still say all options were not expended.It's easy for cowards and b*******s to spout off when they are the protected and have never faced lead coming your way,I have plenty of times.Furthermore,every city in America has law that uses other methods besides wanton killing to settle disputes.The law in these parts have itchy trigger fingers.Raiding peoples houses over a pot plant acting like swat wannabes is one prime example.Raiding the wrong house and busting in the door is another one for our local law.Instead of calling me names,you all need to look in the mirror.

  • posted by Are You Kidding

    December 07, 2011 6:16 pm

    Hey Disgusted; how about next time there is a domestic dispute or stand-off; we call you!!! You can be the first to the door and when the bad guy shoots over a dozen times at you--you can try a flash bang or see if you can talk him out of his weapon!!!! Are you serious??? We ask Law Enforcement to protect us and risk their lives everyday and they do so without question!! And you come up with flash bang or tear gas--quit watching Janet Reno and Johnny Cochran reruns!!! He fired more than a dozen rounds at the officers. Tell us the truth--you really going to stand there and throw a flash bang??? When did you attend Law Enforcement Training and any Law Enforcement Academy??

  • posted by Safety1st

    December 07, 2011 1:33 pm

    It is justified...he threatened saying someone was going to die! Put yourself in the officer's position. He took a vow to protect people, which means he had to protect the wife and the children before they got hurt. He was way over the alcohol limit, anything could have happened. Including his family getting hurt. They did what they thought was right and safe. He didn't want to talk and wanted nothing to do with them. Plus with that type of gun there could have been multiple deaths. Using tear gas on kids and flash grenade are NOT justified that's child endangerment which is what the father was putting the kids in. Think about other people in the situation not just the guy that died.

  • posted by Mark

    December 07, 2011 8:02 am

    Disgusted Taxpayer? You, sir or madam, are nothing but a cowardly fool with a large mouth. 'Protected' by anonymity you spout thoughtless bile. You suggest that instead of retreating out of the home they should have used tear gas and flash bang on the children in the basement?! You are a thoughtless fool. Obviously the officers did everything possible to bring this to a non-violent conclusion. They are to be commended and respected for their involvement in this unfortunate incident.

  • posted by Alex

    December 06, 2011 9:44 pm

    Disgusted, that is the stupidest thing I've heard all day.

  • posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    December 06, 2011 7:01 pm

    Justified? BULL.No tear gas was used or a flash bang.So a man is dead and we will never know his side of the story.Sounds like an ego thing to me.

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