Betsy Swanback

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September 27, 2013
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Defendant found guilty; jurors reject self-defense claim

A man accused of pointing a gun at Douglas County sheriff’s deputies when they broke down his door during an eviction was found guilty of unlawful use of a weapon, menacing and other charges.

Henry “Hank” John Kuester, 64, was on trial in Circuit Court for confronting deputies after they forced their way into his home in the 2200 block of Booth Avenue on Aug. 7.

Deputies retreated and the resulting three-hour standoff ended with sheriff’s deputies using an explosive device and tear gas to force Kuester out of his trailer and into custody.

Deputies testified Wednesday they called out over a bullhorn for Kuester to come out of the trailer.

Before being found guilty Thursday, Kuester and his attorney, Mark Hendershott, argued that Kuester picked up a gun in self-defense as deputies broke in.

Hendershott said Kuester, who wore a court-issued hearing aid during the trial, is hard of hearing and didn’t hear deputies call out to him.

“The first thing he hears is a crash through the door, then he sees a gun,” he said.

Most people would have reacted the same way Kuester did, Hendershott said, “if you’ve got a gun available and someone smashed in a door.”

In his testimony, Kuester said he was in his home listening to the radio when he heard faint noises.

Kuester said he thought two radio stations were blending together.

He said he then heard a big crash that surprised him and walked through his home to see a hole in his front door.

“I was kind of baffled as to what was going on,” he said. Sheriff’s deputies then pushed his front door open, he said.

Kuester said he took an unloaded pistol which was sitting on a table and walked toward the door to see what was happening.

He said he thought the door may have been opened by a burglar. There was a gun pointing at him through the door, he said.

“I didn’t care who he was. I saw an assault rifle pointed at me,” Kuester said. “I focused on the barrel because it was pointed at me.”

Kuester said he then saw a sharpshooter waiting on an embankment outside his house with a gun aimed right at the home.

He retreated and turned off the radio to listen, he said. He then began to hear faint noises from outside, he said.

After the deputies retreated from the door, Kuester said he put the gun down.

“I didn’t pick the gun up after that because it was unloaded anyway,” he said.

Kuester called an emergency dispatcher who transferred the call to one of the deputies outside the trailer.

A deputy asked him to exit the trailer, which Kuester said he refused because of the sniper outside.

“I’m not walking out there because those guns can go off,” he said.

The phone went dead after about 20 minutes, and Kuester called back and was transferred to another deputy, he said.

He was on the phone with a deputy for almost an hour when the deputies put tear gas into his home and he was forced out, he said.

Kuester left the trailer and walked toward deputies, where they arrested him roughly, he said.

“It was totally uncalled for,” he said. “It was excessive force.”

Kuester was charged with unlawful use of a weapon, menacing, pointing a firearm at another, obstructing government administration and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Podlesnik argued that deputies took every precaution to alert Kuester to their presence.

“Self-defense in this case isn’t even on the table,” he said.

He questioned how deputies didn’t know Kuester was home if a radio was on and Kuester was walking around the trailer.

The jury started deliberating around 4:30 p.m. Thursday and found Kuester guilty on all five counts.

Kuester will return to court for sentencing Wednesday.

• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Sep 27, 2013 12:44PM Published Sep 27, 2013 12:04PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.