Christian Glass death trial opening statements: Was ex-deputy ‘excessive and criminal’ or dealing with a ‘DUI that night’?

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A vigil for Christian Glass on Wednesday evening, Sept. 20, 2022, in Idaho Springs. He called 911 for help from his stranded vehicle in Silver Plume in June 2022. Clear Creek County deputies responded to his call, and in a moment captured by officers’ body cameras, one deputy shot and killed the 22-year old man

Updated at 4:05 p.m. on Friday, April 12, 2024.

Prosecutors told a jury on Friday that former Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Buen's actions were “aggressive, excessive, and criminal” when he shot and killed a young man, Christian Glass, who called 911 for help when his car was stuck on a mountain road near Silver Plume.

Buen’s defense attorneys countered that the 22-year-old was likely intoxicated and had threatened officers with a knife before the shooting.

Buen faces a second-degree murder charge for shooting Glass after he called for help when his SUV became stranded on rocks on a remote road late in the night in June 2022. Glass told dispatchers he was lost, was hearing voices, and was scared. Glass also said he had some geology gear in his car, including a knife.

District Attorney for the 5th Judicial District Heidi McCollum gave the opening statement for the prosecution, saying Glass was smart and an artist, and that he “spent the last hour of his life in absolute fear.”

Buen and his partner — both of whom had been officers for a year and a half — arrived on scene first. In a tense and protracted standoff, they struggled to persuade Glass to get out of the car. While Glass did not comply with officers, he also posed little threat, and the officers made no effort to pull him from the car against his will. He made heart signs with both hands at Buen, who was shouting at him, according to body-cam footage released by the sheriff's office to the Glass family attorneys, who then made it public.

Buen, McCollum said, was dispatched to help a stranded car, “but instead, upon arrival of responding to a motorist assist call, he was so focused on the wrong thing that nearly everything he did that evening escalated the situation resulting in Christian Glass's death.”

Other officers arrived on the scene, and one of them was ordered to get on the hood of the car and point their gun at Glass. 

“So now Christian has law enforcement all around him and in front of him up above, pointing a gun down at him right through the windshield,” said McCollum. “Christian starts to shut down.”

After more than 70 minutes, Buen and the officers broke a passenger window of the car, and Glass appeared to panic. Buen then shot Glass with six bean bag rounds. Glass picked up a knife, part of some geology gear he had in the car, and swung it around. Buen and another officer used Tasers on Glass, and then, seconds later Buen shot Glass five times with his pistol. Glass died on the scene.

“The video evidence will show you what is the main crux of this case,” said McCollum. “And that is that Andrew Buen shot a frightened, scared Christian Glass while he was in his car, not harming anyone. Do not lose sight of the crimes that he committed in this case.”

Buen’s attorney, Carrie Slinkard, in her opening statement, said Glass attempted to “stab a police officer” that night with a knife that is illegal to possess in Colorado.

She also said that the prosecution failed to mention that blood evidence shows Glass “was DUI that night … well beyond the legal limit for driving while ability impaired and driving under the influence of alcohol.” 

Slinkard said her team found baggies with white powder and other paraphernalia to consume high-potency marijuana in the car, and that the prosecutors did not examine that evidence. 

“We don’t know what he was high on, because they didn’t bother to look into it,” she said. Officers on scene said his pupils were so dilated that they “describe it as him just having black eyes,” Slinkard said.

The officers on scene were doing the best they could with someone who was not responding to commands and had weapons, argued Slinkard. Glass, she said, was threatening to kill every officer on the scene that night, "stabbing at" one of the officers before the shooting.

“My client’s job was to be lethal cover, and he did that,” said Slinkard. “There was no other choice in that moment, in his mind.”

Buen was terminated from the Clear Creek Sheriff’s office after the shooting, and the county eventually paid out a $19 million settlement to the Glass family, the largest settlement for a police shooting in Colorado history.

Glass’ parents, Simon and Sally Glass, sat in the courtroom in the row directly behind the prosecution. McCollum said in her opening statement that the state intends to call Sally Glass to testify in this trial.

"He was an artist and Ms. Glass will be able to explain to you better. She will talk to you about how smart he was and what his interests were," McCollum said.

Buen is the first deputy to go to trial for the killing — a supervisor, Kyle Gould, pleaded guilty last year for failure to intervene. Gould was not on the scene, he was watching via a livestream and gave the OK to break the car window. Gould had already been fired by the sheriff’s office but also agreed to relinquish his officer certification in Colorado, keeping him from working at another department.

This is the latest in a string of trials involving Colorado Colorado first responders accused of assaults and homicides on the job. On Thursday, a jury acquitted a former Aurora Police Department officer for pistol-whipping a man. Late last year, one Aurora officer and two paramedics were found guilty of charges related to the death of Elijah McClain. In 2021, two Boulder County sheriff’s deputies were found guilty of manslaughter for the death of a man in custody.

Experts say that there’s greater attention on investigating violent incidents involving law enforcement. And the mandated use of body cameras: In each of the high profile cases against police recently, including in the killing of Christian Glass, there’s video of the incident, often from multiple cameras.

Several other officers and deputies who arrived on the scene that night also face charges of failure to intervene. The legal proceedings are in various stages of the process.

Buen’s trial continues this afternoon with the first witness testimony — the 911 dispatcher Paige Kincade — and is expected to stretch into next week.