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Colo. chief defends officer's actions in fatal shooting

The veteran officer had reason to believe the knife-wielding suspect was about to stab him, the chief said

By Mitchell Byars
Daily Camera

BOULDER, Colo. — Noting their officers took "reasonable measures" to protect lives, Boulder police officials on Monday defended the actions of the 14-year veteran who shot and killed a man over the weekend, saying the officer had reason to believe the knife-wielding suspect was about to stab him.

But the suspect's father placed the blame on police, saying the officer-involved shooting that claimed his son's life was a "murder."

Boulder police released photos today of the knives they say a suspect was holding before he was shot and killed Sunday at the Wimbledon Condominiums. (Boulder Police Department)
Boulder police released photos today of the knives they say a suspect was holding before he was shot and killed Sunday at the Wimbledon Condominiums. (Boulder Police Department)

The Boulder County Coroner's Office on Monday officially identified the shooting victim as 42-year-old Michael Habay.

His father, William Habay, of Illinois, told the Daily Camera on Sunday that his son was renting the unit at Wimbledon Condominiums, 3009 Madison St., from him.

When reached again by phone Monday, William Habay called the shooting a "murder."

"He had knives, they had rifles," he said. "That's murder."

He declined to comment further on the shooting.

Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner, in a prepared statement, lamented the loss of life in Sunday's incident, but defended his officers' actions at the scene.

"It is always unfortunate when an officer has to use deadly force and it is a very emotional experience for any officer who is put in this situation," Beckner said. "We are very thankful none of our officers were injured by this attack. Additionally, our condolences go out to the suspect's family for their loss.

"From what we know right now, it appears as though the officers took reasonable measures to protect everyone's safety, but were forced into a very difficult and life threatening situation."

'Drop the knife'
According to officials, police responded to a call at 12:30 p.m. Sunday from a neighbor at the Wimbledon condos who reported that a man armed with a knife and a machete was making threatening remarks and "stabbing a post" outside his apartment.

Earlier in the day, police received a call about the same address from the mother of one of the residents, Kirsten Stenseng, 41, who was worried about Stenseng's welfare. Stenseng answered the door and talked to police, who determined a crime hadn't occurred and left, officials said.

When police responded to the second call, no one was outside, but officers saw Stenseng's car and were concerned she might be inside the apartment and might be in danger.

Police put together an entry team of four officers and knocked on the door of the condo. When they got no response, they forced entry, officials said.

Once the door was open, but before police entered the condo, Habay ran toward the first officer while holding a knife in each of his hands, officials said. According to Boulder police, several commands to "get down" and possibly "drop the knife" were given to Habay.

The first officer inside, Nick Smetzer, was forced to deflect Habay with his ballistic shield, and Habay then ran toward Officer Vincent Gallerani, officials said. Gallerani believed Smetzer "had been injured and he was about to be stabbed," police officials said, so he fired three shots at close range, hitting Habay at least twice.

Habay fell still holding the knives before the first officer was able to kick them out of his hands, officials said. Police said Habay was wearing body armor of the type that would be used in dirt-bike riding or paintball games, with pads on his shoulders, chest and elbows; he also was wearing shin guards and Ugg boots.

Habay was transported to Boulder Community Hospital, where he later was pronounced dead.

Stenseng later was found to be safe with a neighbor in a nearby apartment. Investigators reported finding threatening social media comments directed at Stenseng by Habay, including one saying he would kill her.

Veteran officers
Gallerani, a 14-year veteran and a team leader on the department's SWAT team, has been placed on paid leave while the Boulder County "shoot team" investigates the fatal incident. He was not injured in the incident, which was the first officer-involved shooting in Boulder in five years.

Boulder police noted that Gallerani received a commendation earlier this year for his role in successfully handling an incident at the police department involving a person who appeared might have a bomb.

Smetzer, the first officer inside the condo, is a 12-year veteran and also a member of the SWAT team. Other officers on scene at the time of the shooting were Officer Ryan Lord, a 13-year veteran, and Officer Jenny Paddock, a 17-year veteran.

According to court records, Michael Habay has a criminal record in Colorado that includes a pending case following an arrest this summer on charges of felony menacing and harassment.

He also pleaded guilty to charges of theft, shoplifting, assault and harassment in four other cases between 2006 and 2011, according to court records.

Due to the fatal shooting, the investigation that led to Habay's arrest over the summer was re-opened and thus police said the report was not available for release. A request for the 911 recording of the incident also was denied due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

The last officer-involved shooting in Boulder was in 2008, when a SWAT team member shot and killed a man who claimed he was wearing a bomb inside Boulder Community Hospital.

Copyright 2013 the Daily Camera

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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