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D.A. gives details of Appleton transit center shooting, clears officers

Police at Appleton transit center (WBAY photo)
Police at Appleton transit center (WBAY photo)(WBAY)
Published: Jun. 12, 2019 at 4:32 PM CDT
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Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis is revealing new information this afternoon about the shooting at the Valley Transit Center that left a firefighter and gunman dead and a police officer and a bystander wounded.

The district attorney says the Appleton officers who used deadly force to stop the man were justified and acted in a reasonable manner. The D.A. isn't seeking criminal charges against either officer.

On the evening of May 15, first responders were alerted that a person was having a medical emergency on a bus arriving from outside the area.

Passengers noticed 47-year-old Ruben Houston of Wausau was asleep and snoring oddly. When the bus arrived in Appleton, he didn't get up as the other passengers did, and one passenger said Houston appeared to be having a seizure.

Tempelis said paramedics found signs of an opiate overdose: His eyes were severely dilated and his breathing was inconsistent. They administered Narcan to counteract an overdose.

As he recovered, Houston told paramedics he had taken his wife's morphine because his legs were bothering him. Paramedics wanted him to go to a hospital, fearing the morphine in his system would cause another overdose when the Narcan wore off.

Lundgaard brought a cot for Houston to lay down on outside the bus. Police Sgt. Christopher Biese asked if he could pat Houston down, but Houston brushed him off. He said he had to get back to Wausau to pay his rent and because his wife was sick.

Bus employees said he couldn't get on the bus because they couldn't accept the liability if he overdosed again on the way to Wausau.

Houston became more aggravated and pulled out a .380 semi-automatic handgun, racked it and fired two shots, hitting firefighter Lundgaard and police officer Paul Christensen. Christensen immediately had his service weapon and fired back.

Lundgaard was shot once in the back and it was fatal. Christensen was shot in the lower body.

Houston was wounded but continued shooting. He ran and grabbed a bystander by the neck, using her as a shield. The bystander, 30-year-old Brittany Schowalter of Appleton, was shot in the head and leg.

Tempelis says the shot that grazed Schowalter caused a traumatic brain injury. Tempelis said it's likely Schowalter was shot by police, but tests of DNA on bullets recovered at the scene were inconclusive.

Even when Houston went down from his injuries, he was flailing his arms and legs.He'd spent all 5 shots in his gun but police didn't know that as they approached him. Despite his injuries, he was still combative with police. He eventually died.

Officers Biese and Christensen shot 8 and 11 times.

Police Chief Todd Thomas said police body cameras proved invaluable to the investigation. In a written statement, he said his officers "acted heroically."

"Sgt. Biese and Officer Christensen acted heroically, moving and repeatedly engaging the suspect as he fired. Even after Officer Christensen was hit, and clearly in extreme pain, he battled on because people’s lives were still in danger. They were both guardians and caregivers – and when needed they were true warriors – vividly demonstrating the strength of the thin blue line," Thomas wrote. (Read his complete statement at the end of this article.)

The shooting was investigated by the Green Bay Police Department in accordance with state law that officer-involved shootings must be investigated by an outside agency. Appleton and Green Bay have an agreement for those investigations.

Christensen and Biese were placed on administrative leave, which is protocol since they had fired their weapons. Biese has been with the Appleton Police Department for almost 15 years. Christensen joined the department a year ago.

Lundgaard was a 14-year veteran of the Appleton Fire Department. He was posthumously promoted to driver-engineer.

Chief Thomas issued a lengthy statement Thursday about the shooting and his officers' and the community's response:

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