State attorney general says fatal Wallkill Police shooting was justified

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Police car blocks off crime scene (photo: special to Mid-Hudson News)
Christopher Van Kleeck

TOWN OF WALLKILL – A special investigation into the shooting death of Christopher Van Kleeck in the Town of Wallkill last year found that the fatal shooting of him by a Wallkill Police officer was justified. As a result, the attorney general’s office concluded that criminal charges are not warranted against the officer involved in the case.

The investigation found that Van Kleeck had a history of mental illness and was well-known to the local police.

On prior occasions, his family members called the police when Van Kleeck made threats or became violent, and there were instances when Van Kleeck became violent toward Wallkill police officers.

On June 12, 2021, Van Kleeck’s mother called the Orange County Crisis Call Center seeking help for her son, who was behaving erratically. He grabbed the phone from his mother and told the operator not to send anyone and threatened to “tale out” any police officers sent to his house.

As a Wallkill officer pulled up to the scene, he saw Van Kleeck chasing his father while holding two knives. The Wallkill officer had been present during two previous confrontations with Van Kleeck.

As the father ran toward the police car, he abruptly turned away while Van Kleeck continued toward the officer, still holding the knives.

That’s when the cop fired his service handgun three times through the windshield, striking Van Kleeck once, killing him.

The AG’s Office said under state law, a person may use deadly physical force to defend against the imminent use of deadly force by another person. To convict a person of a crime when the defense of justification is raised at trial, the prosecution must disprove justification beyond a reasonable doubt, the AG said.

In this case, the officer who shot Van Kleeck was present at prior confrontations with him and heard the dispatcher say he had threatened hard to responding officers.

The responding officer in this case saw Van Kleeck chasing his father with two knives. Based on the law and the evidence, under these circumstances, a prosecutor would not be able to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer was justified, and the AG’s Office of Special Investigation determined criminal charges could not be pursued against the officer.