Michael Habay killed after wielding knife wearing "body armor," Boulder cops say
Does the gear worn while dirt biking or taking part in paintball games qualify as "body armor"? That's among the assertions made by the Boulder Police Department in explaining the fatal shooting of Michael Habay, 42, by a BPD officer. And while an investigation of the events that led to Habay's death are under investigation, the info released by the department thus far comes across as an argument that the shoot was justified -- a sort of preemptive charm offensive accompanied by shots of the weapons the man had on him when he died.
The shooting took place on Sunday, November 24, with the narrative provided by the BPD getting underway at about 7:45 a.m. The location: 3009 Madison, in one unit of an apartment complex depicted in the following interactive graphic. If you have problems seeing the image, click "View Larger Map."
View Larger Map
Officers were dispatched to apartment J208 of the complex following a phone call from the mother of Kirsten Stenseng, 41; she was concerned her daughter was in danger. Upon their arrival, however, Stenseng, who was waiting for the cops outside the apartment, assured them there was no problem between her and her boyfriend, Habay.
An attempt to contact Habay proved unsuccessful, and with Stenseng agreeing to leave the scene and the only possible offense the violation of a restraining order, the officers decided to move on. After all, the release notes, "The suspect could be charged with the restraining order violation at a later time."
Later came sooner than expected. At 12:30 p.m. that same day, a neighbor called the BPD with a report that Habay had been hollering and throwing things outside the apartment. In addition, Habay was said to have used to knife to stab a large wooden post outside the apartment, and the BPD notes that "the manner in which the suspect was yelling" led the caller to believe Stenseng was inside and at potential risk from her boyfriend.
With that, police personnel rushed to the scene again. But this time, Stenseng wasn't awaiting them outside the apartment, despite the presence of her gold Cadillac in the parking lot. So what's described as "an entry team of four officers" was quickly assembled, and after no one responded to their request to come inside, they made ready to break in -- at which point Habay could be seen allegedly running toward the door holding a knife in each of his hands.
Here's one photo of a knife recovered from the scene, as provided by the BPD....
The BPD characterizes the outfit Habay wore like so: "a black t-shirt, khaki pants and body armor, the type one might wear for dirt bike riding or paint ball games. He had shoulder pads and a breast pad, elbow pads and shin guards on. He was also wearing furry Ugg boots."
Continue for more about the officer-involved shooting of Michael Habay, including another photo. Once inside, the BPD account continues, officers ordered Habay to "get down," with "drop the knife" listed as another possible command. But Habay allegedly ran toward them holding the knives "in a high position" that required one cop -- Officer Nick Smetzer, a twelve-year department vet and SWAT team member -- to deflect him with a shield as he ran past in the direction of Officer Vincent Gallerani.
Gallerani is "a fourteen-year veteran of the department," the release states, as well as "a team leader on the department's SWAT team and well trained in officer safety and entry techniques. Officer Gallerani received a Chief's Commendation earlier this year for his role in successfully handling an incident at the police department involving an individual who appeared [he] might have an explosive device."
Another photo of a knife found at the scene, as provided by the Boulder Police Department.
On Sunday, however, Gallerani's position in the apartment made it impossible for him to retreat before Habay was "upon him," the BPD narrative maintains -- so he opened fire with a Heckler and Kock (HK), model 416, .223 caliber rifle, a weapon used by the SWAT team he leads. Habay was hit twice, knives still in his hands; an officer kicked them from his grasp after he hit the floor. He was soon transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead -- the "body armor" failing to protect him from real bullets, as opposed to paintballs.
As for Stenseng, she was reported safe in a nearby apartment. But the BPD maintains that investigators subsequently found "threatening comments directed at Stenseng" that were "found posted on social media by the suspect," with one of them allegedly including a threat to kill her. The messages haven't been made public thus far, and what appears to be Habay's Facebook page shows no activity since 2009, when several photos of marijuana were shared.
This sequence of events hasn't convinced Habay's father, William, that his son deserved to be shot. He told the Boulder Daily Camera, "He had knives, they had rifles. That's murder."
A statement by Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner puts things far differently: "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. 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."
Gallerani has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation -- standard procedure in such cases. The Boulder District Attorney's Office will ultimately determine if any charges should be filed.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our News archive circa September: "Video: Fourth recent officer-involved shooting targets burglar at detective's home."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Dear Stoner: Is It Legal to Sell Clones on Craigslist?
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:00am
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:30pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 7:30pm
Sun., Sep. 6, 2:00pm
- An Open Letter to Colorado Natives From a Transplant
- How to Avoid Being a Parking Douchebag