Just what was Nathan Kluessen-dorf trying to do when he blazed away at three police officers with a shotgun and rifle in St. Paul Park last summer?
The elusive answer led to a plea agreement Thursday that will probably send the 23-year-old former volunteer firefighter to prison for more than six years on three counts of first-degree assault on a police officer.
Kluessendorf's assault on police officers that steamy, mosquito-filled night started with a drunken attempt to get mowed down by a train. An escalating confrontation ended early on Aug. 2, 2011, when a SWAT sniper's bullet tore a hole through his hip and abdomen, knocking him to the floor of his house.
"His life was in a downward spiral and he just wanted to end it," said Kluessendorf's attorney, Ryan Pacyga, after Judge Mary Hannon accepted the pleas in Washington County District Court. "It's a tough case. There are no winners in a case like this."
County Attorney Pete Orput, who personally prosecuted the case, said that night left a trail of devastation for Kluessendorf, his family, and the officers and deputies who somehow survived a fusillade.
A tragedy, prosecutor says
"If I'm angry it's because this is one of the worst kinds of cases because they have to take somebody out," Orput said, referring to the SWAT team of about 12 officers called to the scene when the standoff escalated. "This is one of those tragedies you see every 20 years or so."
Orput dropped three counts of first-degree attempted murder of a peace officer because, he said, it would have been difficult to prove whether Kluessendorf was trying to kill the officers or commit suicide, or was shooting because he was drunk. Kluessendorf, in the hearing, said he didn't remember most of what happened.
Hours before the shootout, two St. Paul Park police officers were sent to a Summit Avenue address on a 911 report of a possibly suicidal man standing on railroad tracks. They later found Kluessendorf in a bedroom holding a shotgun. They heard him ratchet ammunition into the chamber of the weapon, and when Kluessendorf threatened them, they retreated to the back yard.
Kluessendorf's mother and his friend remained in the house and tried to calm him. When an officer asked Kluessendorf to listen to his friend, according to criminal charges, Kluessendorf responded: "What are you going to do if I point this gun at this guy's head and blow his head off?"
Meanwhile, a Cottage Grove police officer and two Washington County sheriff's deputies arrived. Kluessendorf fired several shotgun rounds at them from the back door of his house as they took cover behind bulletproof shields. He then repeatedly shot at them with a .22-caliber rifle.
Officers were unable to return fire because Kluessendorf's mother was standing near him. Several bullets "whizzed" over the heads of officers, Deputy Shane Linehan said in the criminal charges. "I'm going to kill all of you," Kluessendorf allegedly shouted.
Shot through window
A SWAT team officer shot Kluessendorf through a double-paned window. What started as a suicide attempt had deteriorated to a deadly confrontation with people he had worked with as a firefighter, Pacyga said after the hearing.
"He knew a lot of these officers. He knew the paramedic who was working on him at the scene," said Pacyga, a Minneapolis attorney. Had the case gone to a jury, Pacyga said, Kluessendorf risked spending most of his life in prison.
Kluessendorf limped into the courtroom with a cane on Thursday from the county jail, looking far stronger than he did a year ago when he was slumped in a wheelchair. He's had several surgeries and told Hannon he underwent a colostomy as a result of his injury.
"Sad," is how he responded when the judge asked him about the course of events. He takes medication for depression and anxiety, and also for pain. He said he was drunk on liquor and beer the night of the shootout and doesn't remember most of it.
Orput recommended that Kluessendorf receive 10 years in prison. With good behavior, he would serve less than seven years. Hannon set sentencing for Nov. 2.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles