APPLETON, Wis. — Two Wisconsin officers were justified when they shot and killed a man who got in a gunfight with police that left a city firefighter dead in the crossfire last month, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis said that Officer Paul Christensen and Sgt. Christopher Biese won’t face criminal charges.
Christensen and Biese exchanged shots with 47-year-old Ruben Houston of Wausau on May 15 outside of Appleton’s downtown transit center. Christensen was wounded, along with a bystander. Both have been released from the hospital.
Appleton firefighter Mitch Lundgaard. (Appleton Police Department via AP)
Ruben Houston. (Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department via AP)
Appleton firefighter Mitchell Lundgaard, 36, was shot and died of his injuries at a hospital.
Houston had just arrived at the transit center on a bus. The district attorney said before the shooting take place, Houston was treated with Narcan, a drug used to revive people suffering from a drug overdose, the Post Crescent reported.
“We lost one of our own and officers were forced to make difficult decisions and risked their lives to protect our community,” Tempelis said.
Tempelis described a scene that quickly changed from a routine medical call to a chaotic, dangerous situation with multiple shots being fired by Houston and by officers trying to deal with the threat he posed.
“It is surprising that nobody else got hurt or killed as a result of the gunfire and the behavior of (Houston),” she said.
When the bus arrived in at transit center, a bus passenger believed Houston was having a seizure and called 911 for help. Lundgaard arrived with other firefighters and began providing aid to Houston.
Houston regained consciousness after responders determined he likely had suffered a drug overdose and gave him two doses of Narcan.
Houston told responders he had taken some of his wife’s morphine. Houston got off the bus on his own, even as responders were encouraging him to seek additional medical care, but he refused.
“They wanted to make sure he got that help,” Tempelis said.
Houston drew a small handgun from a small case at his waist, Tempelis said. He stood back and fired twice, hitting Lundgaard in the upper back and Christensen in the upper leg.
Almost simultaneously, Christensen drew his handgun and fired once, striking Houston in the abdomen. Houston ran toward where bystander Brittany Schowalter was and used her as a shield, the district attorney said.
Christensen and Biese both fired multiple times at Houston, also likely striking Schowalter, although Tempelis said it’s impossible to know for sure who shot her. She suffered an injury to her leg and to her head, with a bullet grazing her skull, Tempelis said.
Houston eventually went to the ground, which allowed officers equipped with a ballistic shield to arrest him. The officers found Houston’s gun under him, Tempelis said.
“The actions of our law enforcement in this incident are commendable,” she said.