Former Homeland Security officer in Anchorage sentenced to 7 years for sexual assault

Jun. 11—A former federal Homeland Security law enforcement officer in Alaska was sentenced Monday in Anchorage to serve seven years in prison for sexual assault and harassment involving a number of women he encountered at work.

Bert Christopher "Chris" Heitstuman, 54, was accused of a series of sexual assaults dating back to 2011 while working at locations including the Anchorage Museum and the federal building. The charges he faced involved at least four women. He pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault and one count of harassment earlier this year.

During Monday's hearing, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack R. McKenna called Heitstuman a "serial predator" before handing down a sentence of 13 years, with six suspended, and 10 years of probation under conditions including sex-offender treatment and registration, as well as no contact with numerous victims. Heitstuman will not be able to work in law enforcement or security again.

"There was a series of brazen attacks against women that were rendered even more helpless by the position that he was in and the role that he served as a member of law enforcement," McKenna said.

Two women described Heitstuman as a man who used the power of his badge as a weapon against them.

"Being a target hurts," one said at the microphone before sitting back down in tears. "My heart hurts for ... everyone he got to."

In a statement read by an FBI agent, another woman who described herself as coming from a law enforcement family said Heitstuman "used his authority in uniform to traumatize me" at the museum in 2018.

"The defendant assured me that as a Homeland Security officer, he was at the top of the law enforcement food chain. He guaranteed me that no one would believe me if I reported what happened," the woman wrote. "He assured me that 'You could get out of anything,' as he had in the past. His actions and threats left me in a constant state of fear, a state of fear that still affects me to this day."

Heitstuman apologized before the judge handed down the sentence, saying he betrayed his profession and never meant to hurt anyone.

"I am not sorry about the charges," he said. "What I am sorry about is the sin."

Heitstuman was indicted in 2021 on five counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of second-degree attempted sexual assault. The February plea deal dismissed all but one of the sexual assault charges.

The felony sexual assault charge stemmed from incidents between July 2011 and December 2014 involving three women with whom Heitstuman engaged in sexual contact without their consent, according to charges updated in February. The misdemeanor harassment charge involved "offensive physical contact" with another woman in 2018.

During that incident, Heitstuman told the woman, "If you come after me, I'll come after you," according to the original indictment.

Five of the seven charges involved incidents during Heitstuman's employment as a Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service law enforcement specialist. Others related to a period that Heitstuman worked as a security officer at the Dimond Center mall, police said at the time.

McKenna said the sentence handed down this week was a minimum a judge could impose in 2011 but now is closer to the maximum for second-degree sexual assault: 15 years with three suspended.

The judge said the only similar case he could think of involved Anthony Rollins, a former Anchorage police officer convicted in 2011 of forcing women to perform sex acts or sexually touching them while on duty. Rollins was sentenced to 87 years following a trial on numerous sexual assault charges.

This case was different, however, because it involved a plea agreement prompted in part by pandemic-related delays, only one sexual assault charge, and some incidents more than 10 years old.

All plea agreements involve some level of compromise, prosecutor Matt Heibel said during the hearing. In this case, the agreement brings certainty and closure, Heibel said.

"It gets an admission on the record, to these individuals both named and not named, who are harmed," he said. "It gets a sex offender registration. It gets probation with a no contact order. And he gets some amount of jail time."