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.