2021-09-10-KNUTSONFOLO

Kristopher Knutson, 49, participates in his arraignment last year from Southern State Correctional Facility.

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WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A Vernon man who barricaded himself in his Dunklee Drive home for five days was apparently upset that children were “being muzzled” in a “government school.”

But his public defender told a superior court judge on Thursday that his client, Kristopher Knutson, 49, was struggling with prescribed medications and was overwhelmed by a “changing family dynamic.”

Windham County Public Defender Richard Ammons also took issue with the way the events were described in affidavits presented to the court, saying they were sensationalized, and that the police response was “extremely concerning.”

“Days went by when there was no meaningful competent communication between Mr. Knutson and the police,” said Ammons.

What was described by the Vermont State Police as a multi-day standoff began in the late afternoon of Sept. 2 when deputies with the Windham County Sheriff’s Office went to Knutson’s home to confiscate his firearms, as was required in an abuse prevention order that was issued earlier that day.

Knutson refused to turn over his firearms and instead retreated into the home and over the next several days, sent nearly 200 text messages to the person who requested the prevention order.

On Sept. 4, Knutson sent the person a threat to retrieve two juveniles from a “government school” where they were “being muzzled,” wrote Vermont State Trooper Tyler Noyes in an affidavit presented to the court.

In another text message, Knutson wrote “So what sort of stressors will be thrown at me today? More drone activity? More talk of [the juveniles] going to the government meat grinder? ... Something new? Like what? Let’s not forget about all those who wanna throw around their labels of mental instability, as opposed to being upset over the fact that [they] have no say in whether or not [the juveniles] are gonna be on the receiving end of psychological abuse, under the guise of safety. ...”

In yet another text message, he wrote “I’m leaving here in body bag, after they shoot me dead, then the [the juveniles] can muzzle up and go to school and you can live happily ever after.”

Noyes wrote that Knutson also posted a sign at the edge of his property that stated, “nobody muzzles [the juveniles]! Not unless it’s over my dead body! Bring the [expletive deleted] pain! Bring it!’”

Knutson also made numerous calls to Vermont State Police dispatch saying he would not leave the residence “unless it is in body bag,” states the affidavit filed by Noyes.

During his arraignment in Windsor County Court, Criminal Division, Ammons told Judge John Treadwell that his client hopes to be accepted at the Brattleboro Retreat so he can address his concerns over his medications.

He was arraigned in Windsor County because the courts in Vermont are holding regional arraignments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ammons noted that Knutson, who is originally from Massachusetts, had agreed to move out of the Vernon home prior to the “unstabilizing event he experienced.”

Knutson was originally scheduled for arraignment on Wednesday, but Ammons said a conversation with his client was too difficult because he was too exhausted and anxious. After 15 hours of sleep, Knutson was “quite coherent, well-spoken and thoughtful,” said Ammons.

Knutson has no prior criminal history, said Ammons.

He also noted that Knutson has been continuously employed as a truck driver for more than 17 years and had spent four years as a crisis officer in the Berkshire House of Corrections in Pittsfield, Mass., and four years working in a residential treatment house, also in Pittsfield.

Other details of affidavits presented to the court included text messages that stated “Not leaving, bring the troops, I’m going to die today,” “Called the state police, they’re gonna be coming, we’re gonna have shootout,” “This is my house now, until they do sneak attack on me ...” “Bang Bang,” and “You are going to regret the day you ever [expletive deleted] with me.”

On Friday, Sept. 3, Knutson was still in the home when State Police received a call that Knutson had called a neighbor and told them to evacuate because there was going to be shootout. Knutson approached another neighbor while holding a handgun to his side and told him there was going to be shootout, advising his neighbor to leave.

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That same day, an arrest warrant was issued for Knutson on charges of violating the protection order and criminal threatening.

Starting at 10:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 6, and stretching until 3 a.m. on Tuesday, the Vermont State Police Crisis Negotiation Unit attempted to speak with Knutson in an attempt to deescalate the situation and take him into custody, states the affidavit filed by Noyes.

Later on Tuesday morning, the Crisis Negotiation Unit again attempted to make contact with Knutson numerous times but he was “continuously aggressive, belligerent, and uncooperative with law enforcement,” wrote Noyes. “Knutson continued to text [the person] ... as well as law enforcement with the general tone of ... being suicidal in nature via suicide by cop.”

On Tuesday night, the Vermont State Police Tactical Services Unit was deployed and a helicopter from the Massachusetts State Police was utilized to hover over the property to illuminate the house.

“This upset Knutson, who exited his residence waving a firearm with the flashlight on ... in the direction of the wood line where TSU members were positioned,” wrote Noyes.

“My weapon is raised and I am ready to fight,” responded Knutson as the helicopter hovered above before he retreated back into the home, states the affidavit. “Negotiators pleaded with Knutson countless times to surrender, come out of the house unarmed, with his hands up, and no one would get hurt.”.

Because Knutson would not comply, tear gas was used to attempt to flush him out of the house.

Knutson said he was puting on a gas mask, but a short time later he exited the house unarmed and was taken into custody at 11:24 p.m.

Dana Nevins, deputy state’s attorney with the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office, told Judge John Treadwell that even though Knutson was forced out with tear gas, “He still refused lawful commands and had to be taken down by force.”

Nevins said Knutson’s refusal to abide for several days by the relief from abuse order demonstrates an unwillingness to engage in the court process.

“There is no indication that the defendant is willing to abide by court orders,” said Nevins, who asked Treadwell to impose a $50,000 bail, to which the judge agreed. When he makes bail, Knutson is forbidden to enter into Vernon and also restricted from two area schools.

Nevins also noted that affidavits presented to the court contained an error.

“The victim was not pushed by the defendant,” he said.

Knutson attempted to speak during the hearing, but Treadwell cautioned him to speak with his attorney first.

Knutson pleaded not guilty through his attorney to nine counts of violating an abuse prevention order, one count of reckless endangerment, one count of criminal threatening and one count of disturbing the peace by phone.

Treadwell ordered an outpatient psychiatric evaluation and appointed Ammons his counsel until the next court hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

After Knutson was removed from the home on Dunklee Drive, troopers seized several fully loaded firearms, including a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15, a 10mm and two 9mm handguns, wrote Noyes. In Knutson’s vehicle, troopers found another 9mm handgun.

“It should be noted that in the kitchen on the table, there were fifteen assorted fully loaded magazines for several different makes of firearms, three fully loaded magazines on the side table in the living room, and [a] heavily reinforced basement room to include substantial assortment of ammunition and magazines,” wrote Noyes in his affidavit.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.