TOWN OF WALLKILL - State Attorney General Letitia James' office said Friday that no criminal charges are warranted against a town of Wallkill police officer who fatally shot a town resident in June 2021.
The officer, who has never been publicly identified, fatally shot Christopher Van Kleeck, 31, after responding to a report of a disturbance at the man's home at the intersection of Schutt Road and Avenue A on June 12, 2021.
James said the conclusion that criminal charges against the officer were not warranted was drawn after a thorough investigation by her department's Office of Special Investigation, including interviews with witnesses and a review of physical evidence, photographs, dashboard camera footage and civilian security camera footage.
According to James' office, Van Kleeck had a history of mental illness and was well-known to members of the Town of Wallkill Police Department. On prior occasions, members of Van Kleeck's family had called police when he made threats or became violent.
James said that on June 12, 2021, Van Kleeck's mother called the Orange County Crisis Call Center asking for help for her son, who was behaving erratically. During that call, Van Kleeck grabbed the phone from his mother, told the operator not to send anyone, and threatened to "take out" any police officers sent to the house.
A dispatcher alerted responding officers to that threat over the police radio.
At about 3:30 p.m., a town police officer who had been present at two prior confrontations with Van Kleeck responded to the call. As the officer arrived at the house, he saw Van Kleeck outside the house with a knife in each hand, chasing his father. The father was running toward the patrol car, and just before he reached the car, he turned sharply out of Van Kleeck's path, moving behind a parked trailer.
James said Christopher Van Kleeck continued running directly toward the patrol car, with a knife still in each hand. Van Kleeck crossed directly in front of the patrol car and was running toward the driver's side when the officer fired his service weapon through the windshield three times, striking Van Kleeck once.
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The officer and additional members of the Town of Wallkill Police Department who had responded removed the knives from Van Kleeck's reach, called for emergency medical services and began life-saving measures. Emergency medical personnel arrived at 3:43 p.m. and took Van Kleeck to Garnet Health Medical Center in the town of Wallkill, where he was pronounced dead at 4:14 p.m.
James said under New York's justification law, a person may use deadly physical force to defend against the imminent use of deadly physical force by another. To convict a person of a crime when the defense of justification is raised at trial, a prosecutor must disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt.
James noted the officer who shot Van Kleeck was present at prior confrontations with him, and had heard the police dispatcher say that day that he had threatened to harm responding officers. When the officer arrived, Van Kleeck was chasing his father with two knives before he ran toward the patrol car.
James said based on the law and the evidence, under those circumstances, a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer was justified in his actions.
Therefore, James said, her Office of Special Investigation determined that criminal charges could not be pursued against the officer.
Mike Randall covers breaking news for the Times Herald-Record, the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Journal News/lohud. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @MikeRandall845
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: AG: No charges in man's fatal shooting by Wallkill police officer