Officer who killed Christian Glass acted in ‘aggressive, excessive and criminal’ way, murder trial hears

Christian Glass smiles with his parents, Sally and Simon Glass, from England and New Zealand, respectively (The Glass Family)
Christian Glass smiles with his parents, Sally and Simon Glass, from England and New Zealand, respectively (The Glass Family)

A Colorado motorist who was shot by police after calling 911 for help “spent the last hour and a half of his life in absolute fear,” prosecutors told jurors in their opening arguments for the murder trial of the former deputy charged in his killing.

Christian Glass, 22, died on 11 June 2022 after his car became stuck between boulders on a dirt road in the mountains about 45 miles west of Denver.

Former Clear Creek County Deputy Andrew Buen, who has since been fired from the force, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and first-degree official misconduct.

On Friday, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum painted a brutal portrait of the killing for the 12 jurors and three alternates sitting before Judge Catherine Cheroutes. All but two were female, including one pregnant woman.

Christian’s parents, Simon and Sally Glass were seated in the front row of the gallery, wearing pink in a tribute to their son’s favourite colour. Ms Glass bent over and stifled sobs, her husband’s arm around her shoulders, as Ms McCollum chronologically outlined the last moments of her son’s life and the fatal shots.

The grieving mother took her turn comforting her husband a short while later when the defence played portions of the 911 call featuring Christian’s voice.

The prosecution’s case rests on demonstrating to jurors that Mr Buen’s actions were “aggressive, excessive and criminal,” McCollum said Friday.

She emphasized that Mr Buen, who was first to arrive at the scene with former deputy Tim Collins, seemed determined to remove Christian from the car from the outset – despite his visible fear from the driver’s seat.

“He was so focused on the wrong thing that nearly everything he did that evening escalated the situation,” she told jurors, pointing out that Mr Buen had ordered Christian out of the vehicle 10 times “in less than two minutes.”

He also shouted at Christian not to remove knives and other tools that could be considered weapons from the vehicle, despite the 22-year-old’s repeated offers to do so to make officers feel safer.

Seven officers from five different agencies ended up at the scene, and all have been charged with various offences resulting from Christian’s death.

Sgt Kyle Gould, who was supervising Mr Buen remotely, pleaded guilty at the end of last year to failing to intervene and has since lost his peace officer certification.

On the night Christian called 911, officers spent more than an hour trying various methods to convince him to get out of the vehicle before shooting him with bean bags and Tasers to breach the window and forcibly remove him.

After former Georgetown Police Chief Randy Williams tased Christian from behind, from a rear window, the scared driver grabbed a knife and began gesturing towards Williams – “a knife that he’s not threatening any one of them with because he’s in the car,” McCollum said.

Mr Buen then fired five fatal shots at Christian, who at no point throughout the interaction left the vehicle.

McCollum instructed jurors to examine that fact and Mr Buen’s determination to remove him from the scene of what he’d determined verbally to be a car crash.

“Keep in mind that, throughout this trial, that Christian Glass was the one who called for help,” she said. “He mistakenly thought that, when he needed assistance, police would do just that.”

The defence countered in their opening arguments by querying Christian’s sobriety, state of mind and the prosecutors’ investigative methods themselves. Mr Buen, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a suit, held a pen as he watched his lawyer point to exhibits of drug paraphernalia and other possible weapons she said her investigator found in the vehicle.

Lawyers for the Glass family, in the months after the shooting, had released an autopsy report which said Christian had THC, a .01 per cent blood alcohol concentration, and amphetamine in his system, the last of which the attorneys attributed most likely to an ADHD prescription.

Defence attorney Carrie Slinkard played for jurors earlier portions of the 911 call in which Christian spoke off folkloric “skinwalkers,” being followed and also of following another vehicle off the highway. She argued Christian’s car became stuck near an occupied house that could “have ended up in the side of” had he wrongly manoeuvered the vehicle.

She argued Mr Buen was assessing the wider situation of public safety and claimed that body camera footage could easily be watched without “realizing that [Christian] is constantly looking at all the weapons he has in the car.”

Mr Williams’s decision to attempt using non-lethal attempts to subdue Christian from behind, she said, and the young man’s reaction, “left [Buen] no choice than to fire a weapon ... there was no other choice in that moment in his mind.”

The trial is expected to last about two weeks. Witnesses will include Christian’s mother, the 911 operator, Colorado Bureau of Investigation agents and use of force expert Seth Stoughton, who testified for the prosecution in the George Floyd trial.

Christian’s parents, who were awarded the largest settlement in Colorado history – which includes changes to police training – told The Independent this week that Mr Buen’s trial had “been a long time coming.

“I’m very pleased that it’s going ahead,” Simon said. “I hope that he is found guilty and justice prevails.”

Sally said she and her husband had been fighting for justice in the hopes “that some other poor young person doesn’t get gunned down for no reason.”

“We have to stay strong for our son, and we want to support [Christian] through the trial,” she said. “And I think, when it’s all over and hopefully he’s in prison, we can really properly grieve for our son – which we really feel like we haven’t had a chance to do yet.”