It didn’t take long for law enforcement officers to determine Christian Glass needed help — not arrest — after his car became lodged against large rocks in Clear Creek County last June.
But recognizing that need still wasn’t enough to get them to stand down when Glass, 22, showed signs of paranoia and agitation as he sat in the driver’s seat with a knife in his lap or in the seat next to him.
Instead, unwilling to wait any longer, a lone deputy, surrounded by colleagues, decided to use lethal force and killed Glass because, as he later told investigators, he was afraid the confused, upset man could reach behind his seat and out a window with a knife to cut another officer.
In an unusually candid rebuke from one law enforcement agency to another, independent investigators from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office found in a review of the shooting that Clear Creek County Deputy Andrew Buen unnecessarily escalated what started out as a non-threatening call for help from Glass.
Glass was ultimately shot and killed by Buen in his own front seat after more than 70 minutes of refusing to leave his car. He told officers from the beginning that he was scared.
Douglas County investigators asked to review the incident by the Clear Creek sheriff, concluded that Glass never posed a safety risk to anyone, including himself, until officers unnecessarily used force against him.
Buen was fired by Clear Creek County after he was indicted by a county grand jury on a charge of second-degree murder and other crimes. He awaits trial. The report issued this week by Douglas County closely tracks the grand jury’s findings.
How Andrew Buen's defense will likely take shape
But by revealing what Buen said to the first investigators who arrived after he killed Glass, it also provides the most extensive preview of Buen’s likely defense — that Glass was making verbal threats to take the lives of the deputies and officers on scene and, with a knife in his hands, Buen thought he was capable of doing it even while seated in his car.
Buen told investigators that he used lethal force against Glass because he was afraid Glass was going to stab the Georgetown police marshal, Randy Williams, who was standing outside of the driver’s side rear window, the report said.
“I was in fear that Williams was going to get caught with that blade,” Buen told Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Derek Graham, according to the report. “He (Glass) had just said that he was going to kill us, and he made that overt action to reach out of that broken window. I mean he knew where Williams was.”
That doesn’t hold water with Glass’s parents, who, for the first time conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with local reporters on Thursday.
“Our son’s never been violent in any way, he never has hurt anybody. He must have been scared,” said Sally Glass, his mother, who has not watched the body camera footage because she said it would be too painful. “That’s why he picked up the knife because he was so, so scared. No one was ever in danger. Christian was inside a locked car with these windows up.”
Independent investigators also concluded that there were a number of people on the scene who questioned Deputy Buen’s escalating actions, including a supervisor from the Colorado State Patrol. That sergeant at one point questions why Clear Creek deputies wanted to extricate Glass from the car.
“If there is no crime, and he's not suicidal or homicidal or a grave danger then there's no reason to contact him,” a CSP sergeant asked a trooper who was on scene, according to the report. “Or is there a medical issue we're not aware of?”
But no one on scene stepped up to de-escalate the situation before Buen ultimately fired five rounds.
How Christian Glass' family brought international attention to their son's death
The incident had reportedly been under investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, whose officials told Glass’s parents they were looking into the death of their son, but they didn’t need an attorney.
Frustrated with the lethargic process, and the fact that Buen was already back at work, Glass’s parents hired lawyers. In September, those lawyers released body camera footage of the incident to reporters.
At that point, it became an international incident. Glass was born in New Zealand, and reporters there began tracking the case closely.
Buen’s supervisor on the incident, Kyle Gould, also faces criminally negligent homicide charges in Glass’s death for instructing Buen to break the glass windows of the car.
But the many other officers from multiple agencies who were on the scene that night all went back to work without incident — something Glass’s family and lawyers say is troublesome.
“Why are there not internal affairs investigations on all the officers involved in the murder of Christian Glass?” said Siddhartha Rathod, the Glass family attorney. “Why hasn't the Georgetown chief of police said, 'Hey, we need to have an investigation.' Same with the Division of Gaming. Same with Idaho Springs. You have a Colorado State Patrol officer there who was told by his sergeant that there was no justification to continue the contact of Christian, that they should all leave. Does he leave? No. He knew what they were doing was wrong.”
Simon Glass, Christian’s father, said that he hopes the high-attention case can bring about widespread reform in how officers behave.
“There’s an opportunity here to change something,” he said. “In Christian’s memory, I hope this can be a catalyst for people to see this, to shine a light into what’s going on, maybe this can be a chance for some change to happen.”
The report details how Glass was never a threat, as well as how Buen and other officers mishandled the incident
Clear Creek Sheriff Rick Albers, who has not given any interviews to the media, said on social media Wednesday that the Douglas County review was “a detailed, unbiased investigation.”
“The 72-page report painstakingly details Mr. Glass’s tragic loss of life, the excessive force against Mr. Glass, mistakes and outright failures,” Albers wrote. “CCSO policy and procedures are reflective of national best practice standards. However, the report concludes that Mr. Buen did not adhere to those standards. CCSO has an obligation to be better tomorrow than we are today.”
The report details dialogue between the officers shortly after Glass’s death, according to the body cameras. Within moments of shooting and killing Glass, Buen immediately began casting around for victims to see if Glass injured anyone, the report said.
“Williams, did he slash you, or are you good?” Buen said to the Georgetown Police Marshal Randy Williams, according to body camera footage.
“I’m good,” Williams replied.
Buen’s partner, Tim Collins, looked down at his hand on the scene.
“You cut?” Buen said.
Collins replied, “I don’t know how, but I broke my finger.”
“Well, go get checked out,” Buen told him.
“It doesn’t matter right now, dude,” Collins said, motioning towards Glass, who was lying on the ground receiving medical attention after being shot.
The Douglas County investigators found that Glass was never in a physical position to kill anyone.
“A knife is a dangerous weapon, however for Mr. Glass to kill or seriously injure an officer on scene, he would have had to exit the vehicle or turned his body so significantly in the driver’s seat that he would have been able to reach the knife more than one to two feet outside the vehicle to inflict injury to Williams,” the report said.
Further, investigators noted that four “reasonable” officers on the scene with direct vantage points of the events taking place chose not to fire their handguns — that includes Williams, the Georgetown police marshal, who was the closest person to Glass at the time.
“For this reason, Deputy Buen using deadly force against Mr. Glass was not consistent with that of a reasonable officer,” the report said.
Investigators also found that over the course of more than 70 minutes of communicating with Glass, multiple people brought up the fact he may have a mental health problem — yet no one adapted their approach or behavior to accommodate it.
“Mr. Glass states he needs to go to a mental health hospital because he is 'insane,'" the report said. “Deputy Buen responded, 'A mental hospital for what? We haven’t even been able to have a conversation with you.'”
Investigators found Buen didn’t have enough probable cause on Glass’s mental condition to forcibly remove him from the vehicle to place him on a mental health hold at a hospital. Specifically, investigators called it “unreasonable” to require him to get out of the car given the information they had on Glass at the time.
“Mr. Glass was clean in his appearance, drank when he was thirsty and expressed he was hungry,” the report said. “Other than his vehicle being disabled, Mr. Glass did not meet the legal definition of gravely disabled … Mr. Glass stating he was insane does not in and of itself rise to the level of probable cause to take someone into custody based on that person’s mental state.”
Glass’s mother, Sally, on Thursday said Glass had ADHD and suffered from bouts of depression in the past, but didn’t have any other serious mental health problems and acted the way he did because he was petrified.
“He was cornered and he was being terrorized and bullied, and he was in a dark place that he didn't know surrounded by men pointing guns at him,” she sais. “And he thought they were going to help him. So I think we could argue that based on that environment, maybe we would all be pushed into a mental health crisis.”
The report also noted that the incident took place between June 10 and June 11, 2022, and it was between 72 and 75 degrees outside, where leaving Glass there with his car lodged on a rock and stop sticks installed behind it, wouldn’t have posed any risk to anyone.
Buen told investigators he was mostly concerned about Glass having a geology knife, which investigators estimated was between 3 and 4 inches long.
But investigators concluded Buen also mishandled that — best practices call for officers to give people armed with knives ample space, and Buen repeatedly moved himself closer to Glass, who remained locked in the car.
“Mr. Glass would have had to take several steps to physically harm officers with the knife, especially if a larger reactionary gap would have been created by Deputy Buen and others on the scene,” the report said. “Deputy Buen failed to use the de-escalation strategies lined out for him in the CCCSO policy and procedure when he ultimately decided to forcibly remove Mr. Glass from his vehicle based on Mr. Glass’s mental state.”
More coverage of the Christian Glass killing:
- After getting stuck on a dirt road in Clear Creek County in June, Christian Glass called 911 for help. Instead, the 22-year-old was killed while locked inside his own car after a long, tense, confusing and chaotic confrontation.
- The parents of Christian Glass that the fact the deputy who killed their son is back on the streets without any consequence is a stain on Colorado and a threat to everyone in the state.
- A Clear Creek undersheriff said the deputy who fatally shot Christian Glass was afraid he was going to stab a law enforcement officer out of the broken car window. Gov. Jared Polis has condemned the killing.
- PHOTOS: Christian Glass's family and about 30 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil in Idaho Springs.
- The New Zealand and British governments are asking for answers in the Clear Creek County investigation into the killing.
- The investigation into the shooting death was sent to a county grand jury near the end of October.
- Nearly a month later, the grand jury indicted two Clear Creek County sheriff’s deputies. Those two deputies were also both fired by the sheriff.
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!