The family of Christian Glass, a 22-year-old man who was shot and killed by police after calling 911 to report his car had gotten stuck, will receive a $19m settlement – the largest payout for police misconduct in the history of Colorado.
Glass was shot and killed in Silver Plume, a tiny rural, rocky outpost just west of Denver, in the summer of last year. The payout announced late Monday was accompanied by an apology letter from the sheriff’s department whose officers are charged in his death.
“The events that transpired the night of June 10-11, 2022, that ended in Christian’s death, continue to be disturbing,” Clear Creek County Sheriff Rick Alberts said in an apology letter to the Glass family. “The initial press release did not give an accurate description of what occurred. Rather, as stated in the conclusion of the investigative report ... the deputy who killed Christian Glass used lethal force that ‘was not consistent with that of a reasonable officer.’”
That deputy, Andrew Buen, has been charged with second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and official misconduct. His former supervisor, Kyle Gould, who was giving instructions remotely on the night of Glass’s death, has been charged with criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
Both were fired last year by the sheriff’s office following the incident and are scheduled to appear next in court in June.
“Christian Glass should be alive today,” a statement from the Glass family lawyers reads. “This settlement sends a message that such injustice will not be tolerated, and that those responsible will be held accountable.”
Four Colorado state governments will each pay parts of then newly-announced settlement with the Glass family to reach the record amount. In addition to the funds, the family will also receive assurances that the state and its police agencies are enacting measures to ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur again.
Glass called 911 on 10 June 2022 after his car got stuck on a road in the small town, a former silver mining camp. Seven officers from five agencies responded. Glass was shot and killed an hour and ten minutes after he had called for help.
He told the officers on several occasions that he was scared to leave the vehicle and offered to throw any items that could be considered weapons out of the car. Police alternated between joking and cajoling and barking orders at Glass as he became increasingly upset while sitting in the driver’s seat.
Former Deputy Buen broke the passenger-side window, tased Glass and shot him with bean bags, which were non-lethal. Video shows Glass thrashing around in the front of the vehicle; after officers spotted him holding a small knife, Mr Buen opened fire, fatally shooting him.
The family has repeatedly said they hope for charges against the other officer present on the night for their failure to intervene.
University of California, Los Angeles law professor Dr Joanna Schwartz told 9News that “$19m is a lot of money”.
“I think this agency will be thinking carefully about how it operates in the future, and other departments in the region and across the country are also going to take notice of this suit. But I think it’s the noneconomic changes that will most directly impact the department in the immediate future,” she added.
Clear Creek County, Officer Buen’s former department, has the largest payout – $10m. As part of the settlement with the county, Glass’s parents will get to speak to new patrol recruits joining the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office. The county is also set to create a crisis response team before 1 January 2025.
The co-responder programme across the county will couple mental health workers with paramedics to respond to calls along with police to make sure that what took place in the case of Mr Glass doesn’t occur again.
Dr Schwartz told 9News that in many instances, police agencies aren’t interested or willing to agree to settlements like this one.
“I really haven’t heard of another settlement that involves the parents actually themselves speaking to officers, which is truly novel in my experience,” she told the local station.
Clear Creek County Sheriff Rick Albers is set to make a public apology along with the Board of County Commissioners and he’s committed to putting in place a crisis intervention certification for current patrol officers before 1 January 2027. New patrol officers will be certified within a year of being assigned.
The county has also agreed to dedicate a public park to Glass.
In his apology letter, Sheriff Albers wrote that he has “undertaken measures intended to prevent a future failure.
“He has been working with partners to establish a program of county-wide crisis response,” he wrote, including forming a Citizens Policy Advisory Board and continuing “to prioritize Crisis Intervention Teams, Mental Health response, and Co-Responder programs.”
One Colorado State Trooper and two officers from the Division of Gaming also took part in the response to the call from Glass, meaning that $3m of the payout will come from the state of Colorado’s Office of Risk Management.
The State Patrol is set to begin Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) training with a short video from the parents of Glass and the video will also be provided to all troopers, cadets, as well as officers at the Division of Gaming.
The State Patrol will also name a virtual reality training scenario after Glass. The scenario will go through what happened during the lethal encounter, with the focus being on de-escalation.
“I think the dollars paid will have some impact, but this kind of directed, agreed-upon policy and practice change may be the quickest way to get those kinds of changes implemented,” Dr Schwartz told 9News. “They were able to get something really powerful and unique accomplished through the settlement.”
The state will place three art pieces by Glass in government buildings and Governor Jared Polis is set to hold a dedication ceremony in honour of his life on Wednesday.
The City of Idaho Springs and the Town of Georgetown will also take part in the co-responder programme.
An officer from Idaho Springs was one of seven members of law enforcement who responded to Glass’s call but didn’t step in to stop the shooting. The city will pay $1m to Glass’s family and it’s making a public statement, saying that it’s working with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health. The centre has a licensed clinician do weekly ride-a-longs with officers.
In the city’s statement, Idaho Springs Police Chief Nate Buseck said: “I have three teenagers and one young adult child. I cannot imagine the agony and pain the Glass family is experiencing in losing Christian.”
“We, in law enforcement, need to do a much, much better job. This outcome is not acceptable, and all law enforcement officers need to remember why we signed up to do this job … and that is to help people,” he added.
Georgetown Police Marshal Randy Williams was at the scene of the incident with Glass. The town is paying $5m to the family and is issuing a statement. It’s also set to take part in the co-responder programme.
The statement noted that all officers have been taking courses in “intensive crisis intervention responses” and that the death of Glass was “tragic, preventable and unnecessary”.