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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Honoring Chelsie: After daughter's suicide with cop boyfriend's service weapon her family wants changes [AZ]

Chelsie Marie Raidiger

..."She had plans. She had things to look forward to. She had a future. People who have plans don't commit suicide"... "The investigation lasted all of probably a couple of hours, because once they determined in their mind that it was suicide, case closed," [Chelsie's stepdad] Ben Sturman says...

 Image caption: Chelsie Raidiger's sister, Melissa Raidiger, stands behind her stepfather, Ben Sturman, her brother, Cody, and mother,Rebecca Sturman, at Chelsie Raidiger's gravesite.
Photo by Patrick McArdle

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Monday, August 3, 2009 - [AZ] Seeking understanding on the death of Oro Valley Police Officer Mike Kleinberg's girlfriend, Chelsie Raidiger 

After their daughter's suicide, Rebecca and Ben Sturman want changes in policies regarding what police do with their weapons at home

Tucson Weekly
by Mari Herreras
May 06, 2010

Chelsie Raidiger, 22, took her own life almost a year ago by firing a handgun into her chest.

Her parents, left with a list of unanswered questions, wish that they had known something was wrong.

"I do look back now and wish I knew she was hurting. I would have come and gotten her out of there. I would have done anything," says Rebecca Sturman, Raidiger's mother.

Sturman holds a large white three-ring binder close to her chest when she first sits down to talk about her daughter. Inside, between photos of a smiling Chelsie, are hundreds of pages of e-mails and documents that Sturman has collected since her death.

The details on every page tell a story, a story about a girl, her mother says, who would never commit suicide.

However, according to records the Tucson Weekly obtained from the Pima County Sheriff's Department, Chelsie Raidiger unquestionably committed suicide, according to homicide detectives and the Pima County Medical Examiner.

Raidiger lived in a Vail home owned by her boyfriend, Michael Kleinberg, who was reportedly in Ohio at the time of her death. Kleinberg is an Oro Valley Police Department officer—and Raidiger used his duty weapon to end her life on Sunday, June 14, 2009.

Sturman believes that if the Oro Valley Police Department had stricter rules on how officers secure their duty weapons while not on the job, her daughter might still be alive.

Sturman admits that she's been consumed—writing letters to state officials and public-safety agencies, asking them to look at her daughter's case and work to get police departments to adopt stricter rules.

"I want Oro Valley to look further into their policies on what police officers do with their weapons once they are off-duty. Just leaving them on a dresser or nightstand doesn't seem right," Sturman says. "I guess that was OK with them, but their policy needs to be changed. They should be protecting other people. What about gun safety?"

If Raidiger had left a suicide note, perhaps Sturman and her family could move on. But they found no note; instead, Sturman says, she found acceptance letters in her daughter's purse from Pima Community College and the University of Phoenix's radiology programs.

"She had plans. She had things to look forward to. She had a future. People who have plans don't commit suicide," Sturman says.

In the late afternoon on June 14, 2009, sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call from Kleinberg's brother, Brian Kleinberg, also an Oro Valley police officer. He was there with his girlfriend, Loreen Jones. They had planned to stop by the house that day to take care of Kleinberg's dogs, and they showed up a little earlier than planned when Kleinberg called to say he was worried because Raidiger wasn't answering her phone, and hadn't shown up for her scheduled shift at a restaurant on Broadway Boulevard.

It was Jones who found Raidiger on the bed in the master bedroom. At first, she thought the young woman was sleeping.

When Jones shook her, she told deputies, she realized Raidiger was probably dead.

The deputies and homicide detectives said Raidiger was in bed, with a gunshot wound on the upper left breast; they suspected it was a suicide from the beginning. One deputy saw a black revolver on a dresser, but didn't believe it was the weapon used, "because if it was a suicide and she shot herself, she would not have gotten out of bed and laid the revolver down."

Kleinberg's duty weapon, a Glock 22, was found when a deputy pulled back a comforter and saw the gun partially under Raidiger's right thigh. Almost all of the deputies noted that Raidiger's cell phone was sitting on a bedside table; it was eventually bagged as evidence.

Sturman knows every detail of her daughter's death. The binder she carries is that tragic day's encyclopedia—containing the sheriff's investigation, the coroner's report, online guest-book comments from Raidiger's obituary, and e-mails the mother has collected over the past year from Raidiger's friends and co-workers.

In most of those e-mails, Raidiger's friends and co-workers describe the shock they felt after they first heard their friend had committed suicide.

Without a note from her daughter, Sturman says these messages mean a lot to her, as she asks herself, "Why?" Sturman, her husband, Raidiger's 18-year-old sister and her 6-year-old brother have found comfort going to Tu Nidito, a nonprofit grief-counseling organization that specializes in youth and families.

"I found that it's better than talking to a therapist. Everyone there has been through the same thing. They know how we feel," Sturman says.

While helpful, the family is still hurting. Raidiger's stepfather, Ben Sturman, says his son still expects his oldest sister to drop by.

"He still thinks she'll show up to take him to the movies," he says.

Their other daughter created a memorial page for her older sister on Facebook, but is having problems in school.

"Her stomach hurts so bad, but they can't find anything wrong with her. ... She gets home and writes on the Facebook page, 'I miss you. Prom is coming. Graduation is coming. I need you,'" Sturman says.

The Sturmans don't only have problems with the Oro Valley Police Department's policy on how officers secure weapons when off-duty; they also think the Pima County Sheriff's Department needs to re-evaluate how it investigated her daughter's death.

"The investigation lasted all of probably a couple of hours, because once they determined in their mind that it was suicide, case closed," Ben Sturman says.

"They really didn't investigate the way we thought they would," Rebecca Sturman adds.

According to the report from the medical examiner, the coroner only conducted an external exam. No toxicology tests were ordered, and no internal examination was performed.

Rebecca Sturman says she and other family members saw a pregnancy kit in the bathroom at the home her daughter shared with Kleinberg, and one of the test sticks was missing.

"If she was pregnant at the time, we think that's important. We would have liked to have known," Sturman says.

And then there is the cell phone that was taken in as evidence. Sturman says she thought the sheriff's department was going to do a test on the phone that would produce a transcript of all the text messages. However, that transcript was not included in the sheriff's investigation packet.

Sturman says she called detectives and asked what happened; they reportedly told her they looked through the messages on the phone, but didn't do a forensics check. She then asked the sheriff's department to return the phone.

Sturman looked through the text messages and found numerous messages exchanged between Kleinberg and her daughter on June 13 and early in the morning of June 14—the day Raidiger killed herself. Kleinberg, in Ohio with a friend, was out for a night on the town. Raidiger was upset because Kleinberg wasn't answering his cell phone; he texted her back to explain he couldn't hear the phone ring in the club.

A heated argument went back and forth that started at 11 p.m. Tucson time on June 13, with a final message from Raidiger at 1:01 a.m. on June 14. In the texts, Kleinberg tells Raidiger that he wants to break up, and that he wants her to move out.

Sturman says something else was missing from the sheriff's investigation—an interview with Kleinberg.

Kleinberg was finally interviewed about a month after Raidiger's death. Sturman says she thinks the only reason a homicide detective finally interviewed the police officer was because she complained and brought up the text messages and their volatile nature.

According to a transcript of the interview, Det. James Brown asked Kleinberg about his relationship with Raidiger, and the argument that took place when he was in Ohio. Kleinberg told Brown that before he left for Ohio, he knew the relationship wasn't working out, and that Raidiger didn't want him to go on the trip. Regarding the texting argument, Kleinberg said "I can't recall exactly what I said ... ."

"... Is it fair to say it was a pretty heated argument on the phone?" Brown asked.

"It was definitely heated, it, it was pretty heated," Kleinberg said. "I mean, so we ended up getting off the phone. Um, and then it went towards text messaging. And to be honest, I can't remember, excuse me, what all I wrote and what she wrote. ... It basically came down to that I was breaking up with her."

Kleinberg told Brown that he called her in the morning to check in, but Raidiger didn't respond. He then called her work, and they told him she wasn't in yet. He called back a few hours later, and she still hadn't shown up. He then called Raidiger's mother, and when he told Rebecca Sturman she hadn't shown up for work, Raidiger's stepfather went to see if her car was parked in the restaurant lot.

"Wasn't there. So I had a, you know, bad feeling in my stomach when I heard that there was a no-call no-show ... " Kleinberg told Brown.

Kleinberg recalled getting a call from his brother's girlfriend, who told him that Raidiger was dead and that he needed to come home.

Brown asked him if she ever showed signs of suicide during their relationship, "that she would go to that extreme or that she would hurt herself."

"Not at all. Um," Kleinberg answered.

"I mean, you work law enforcement too and ... " Brown said.

"Uh huh (yes). And you know, because I work law enforcement, you know, I've been to suicides," Kleinberg replied.

"So you could see where the signs are, and where they're not?" Brown asked.

"And Chel, (Chelsie) like, uh, you know, she likes hearing about stories and stuff. And you know, you know, we both discussed about suicides that we can't understand how for one, someone could do that to themselves, and for two, um, how someone could do that not only to themselves but to the family as well," Kleinberg said.

"And if I would've known that she had any of these things, I would've for sure gotten her help. ... And I wouldn't have left any revolver or any other gun around. I mean, that's stupid right there."

Brown asked Kleinberg how he secured his weapons at home, and whether Raidiger knew how to use them. Kleinberg said he felt comfortable that Raidiger knew where the weapons were secured, usually in an extra room Kleinberg referred to as his "police room." He also told Brown that he had taught Raidiger how to use his .27 caliber handgun and a compact Glock that was not his duty weapon. He told Brown that sometimes he kept his duty weapon in his bedroom, and has about two other guns in the house.

The Weekly called Brown regarding Sturman's criticism of the investigation, but he did not respond as of press time. Lt. Michael O'Connor, a supervisor in the sheriff's homicide division, did respond.

In reaction to Sturman's criticism, O'Connor says investigations are handled "very much on a case-by-case basis." What complicated this case, he says, is the fact that Raidiger lived with a police officer. He says the case was not taken lightly, despite how Sturman feels.

"Typically, we don't take statements (in cases) that involve a suicide, but the only reason we took (Kleinberg's) is because a law-enforcement officer was involved, and we know that there would be questions. If that would have been someone of no notoriety, we would have moved on, but because it was a law-enforcement officer, we took it a step further," O'Connor says.

Detectives who responded to suicides in the past usually didn't look at cell phones, but these days, suicide notes can be found in text messages, or even on websites like Facebook.

"Now we look at all electronic devices," O'Connor says.

Regarding Sturman's desire to change duty-weapon policies and her unrelenting pursuit of her daughter's case, O'Connor says it's easy for him to relate, since his daughter is the same age as Raidiger. He says he does not blame Sturman for pursuing the matter.

"She is a very, very nice lady. I like talking with her. ... I had compassion, and I feel for her. We have taken (the case) as far as we can take it. You might say a duty weapon might be secure, and (that) would have made a difference, but in this case, the officer had a lot of other guns. It's a tragedy. It really is," O'Connor says.

O'Connor says the coroner's office, not the sheriff's department, decides how to investigate a body.

"They send an investigator to the scene, and decide then how extensive they are going to do their examination," O'Connor says.

Pima County Chief Medical Examiner Bruce Parks says it is true that the investigation is up to the discretion of the pathologist, but if there is a concern shared by law enforcement or even family, more tests can be done. In Raidiger's case, Parks says, the bullet exited the body, and there was no need to recover evidence. He also says concerns regarding Raidiger's death and the investigation were not communicated to the coroner's office until long after her funeral.

"If we're made aware of concerns earlier, then we can do more," Parks says.

The sheriff's department never accused or suspected Kleinberg of any wrongdoing.

The text messages found on her daughter's cell phone, however, stunned Sturman. She e-mailed her daughter's friends, asking their opinion on the suicide and the relationship between the young man and woman.

Sturman says her daughter dated Kleinberg for a year when they attended Sabino High School together. They broke up, but met at a party about three years ago, and began dating again. Raidiger moved into Kleinberg's Vail home in 2008.

At times, Sturman says, she was concerned. She didn't like the way Kleinberg sometimes acted.

"He would make fun of her weight all the time. We knew that part of it. He liked to practice his submission holds on her, and on our youngest son, who is 6, which we did not approve of," Sturman says.

As Sturman looked at the text messages and the e-mails that came in from Raidiger's friends, it only fueled her desire for answers, while wondering if more could have been done to protect her daughter. She also began to think about several incidents that happened after her daughter's death.

Sturman says a friend of her daughter's told her that Raidiger and Kleinberg had broken up a couple of weeks before he left for Ohio, and that Raidiger was living in the Vail home's guest room. The same friend told her that Raidiger's belongings were brought back into the master bedroom so the Sturmans wouldn't know about the breakup.

Then there was Raidiger's funeral. Sturman says they asked Kleinberg to do the eulogy. It was less than a paragraph long.

"He didn't even cry," she recalls.

Sturman says she was hurt when she saw pictures from Kleinberg's Facebook page, of Kleinberg partying with friends and his brother—after Raidiger's funeral, on the same day.

"He's there, hugging, kissing, bumping other girls," says Sturman, pointing to Kleinberg in photocopies of the Facebook photos. "My 18-year-old was still friends with him on Facebook. She saw these pictures and was so upset. The first thing out of her mouth was, 'How can he not have any feelings?'"

Sturman admits that the family has sought legal advice, wondering if charges can be pressed against Kleinberg. One attorney told the family that if Kleinberg admitted that he knew Raidiger wanted to kill herself, he could be charged with wrongful death, because he left weapons in the house.

No such statement exists.

"Problem is that we all feel in our hearts that something was not right, something is not right. But how do you prove something is wrong?" Sturman asks.

When Kleinberg came with his family to the Sturmans' house the Monday after she died, he asked the family not to blame him for Raidiger's suicide.

"It was not an apology, but I wasn't mad. Then after I saw the text messages, yeah, I was mad. There should have been an apology for the way he treated her," Sturman says. "I wish I could have just gotten her out of there. One day, she came over because she was so mad at him. I told her, 'You don't have kids; you're not married; and you don't have to be there.' She really wanted to make it work."

The Weekly sent Kleinberg a message via Facebook to ask about the circumstances of his late girlfriend's death, and the Sturmans' interest in changing the policies and procedures related to how police officers secure weapons when off-duty. Kleinberg didn't respond to the message, nor did he respond to a voicemail message left for him at the Oro Valley Police Department.

However, Kleinberg asked Tucson attorney Mike Storie to contact the Weekly on his behalf.

Storie says he sometimes represents officers through the police union, but he's not formally representing Kleinberg. Kleinberg and his brother came to him for advice as Sturman began inquiries into the investigation last year.

"This is basically about families who are feuding," says Storie.

Storie says he is aware of Sturman's allegations, especially after she wrote a letter to the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST), the state police-certifying agency, asking the organization to yank Kleinberg's certification.

"It ran its course," Storie says about the AZ POST matter. Kleinberg remains certified.

If Kleinberg did anything wrong, Storie says, he was a bad boyfriend, and nothing more. The family may not like the way he mourned, but that doesn't mean he was wrong.

"This was his girlfriend, not a wife, and they planned on breaking up anyway. Is this because her family doesn't think he's grieving properly?" Storie asks.

Storie says the Kleinberg family felt uncomfortable when the Sturmans asked for help in paying for Raidiger's funeral. Another issue that came up, Storie says, was that Raidiger's family wanted to have the cause of death changed to accidental rather than suicide, in order to collect on a life-insurance policy.

"(The Kleinbergs) were very bothered by the fact that they were pressured from the very beginning," Storie says. "(The Sturmans) were a little tacky."

Storie says he understood the family was looking for an attorney and thinking of filing a lawsuit against Kleinberg, but nothing happened.

The Sturmans should hire a private investigator to get all of their questions answered, he advises.

"Every door has been open for them, and they've run out of leads, and it's drawing to a conclusion they don't want to accept," Storie says. "Maybe an investigator would help them."

In response, Sturman says the family did want the cause of death changed. She says they wondered if there was a chance that their daughter didn't intend for the gun to go off.

"It was during the week of the funeral. We honestly thought, 'What if she picked it up, and the chamber went off? How can you rule it as a suicide?' We asked (Kleinberg) to call down to the medical examiner's office and ask if it could be changed," says Sturman, adding that when they realized it couldn't be changed, they dropped the subject and never appealed to the insurance company.

"I don't see this now as two families feuding," Sturman says. "How can he protect and serve, when he couldn't do it properly in his own home? That's what this is about. We are not even in contact with the family."

Tyler Woods is a facilitator for Survivors of Suicide (www.sostucson.org), an organization she founded that provides grief counseling to those left behind when friends and family commit suicide. The organization runs support groups in Tucson.

Woods says she's familiar with the Sturman family's concerns and loss, although the family hasn't sought grief support through her organization. She understands why the family is still looking for answers.

"Families are going to look for answers, but they need to know they may never find the truthful answers or real answers as to why their loved one committed suicide," Woods says.

When Woods first started facilitating the support groups, a mother came to her who was dumbfounded about her daughter's suicide.

"Her daughter was an A student, always laughing," Woods says. "Days after the funeral, they found a secret diary in their daughter's bedroom. They discovered she was absolutely miserable."

There may have been signs that Raidiger was thinking of suicide, too, even if most of her friends and family never thought she would take her own life. Woods says the signs are subtle, and sometimes it takes someone who is trained or who has suffered from losing someone from suicide to recognize what is happening.

"There are hidden verbal clues," Woods says. "'I've just so had it,' 'I am so done with this,' 'Sometimes I just don't know if I can go on,' 'I just can't do it anymore,' or, 'Wouldn't my marriage be better off without me?' are some of those clues. When I hear them, I stop and ask if that person wants to sit down and talk."

The fact that Raidiger didn't leave a note doesn't surprise Woods. She says that at group meetings with about 20 people, only three or so will raise their hands when asked if a note was left.

"It's difficult to accept, but it happens more often than people realize. Most families don't have a note," she says.

While Woods says the Sturmans' search for answers is fueled by their grief, that doesn't mean they should give up in their efforts to change the laws.

"They seem like a great family, and it sounds like they are being ignored. I would hope (the) police work much closer with them. I think it's good that they're not going away," Woods says.

Lt. Chris Olson of the Oro Valley Police Department is familiar with Sturman and her interest in changing his department's policies regarding duty weapons. He is in charge of internal affairs, as well as hiring and training in his department.

The Oro Valley Police Department policy on securing duty weapons when off duty is: Members of the department shall at all times handle and safeguard firearms and other weapons consistent with department training. Officers shall be responsible for the security of their weapons. Weapons shall not be left unattended in public view.

Olson confirmed that no internal investigation was done regarding Kleinberg and the use of his duty weapon in Raidiger's suicide.

"What took place is consistent with suicide. There was zero culpability (on Kleinberg's part)," Olson says. "The fact that she chose his duty weapon doesn't warrant an investigation. ... Had this been a small child, then yes, that would be a different story."

Olson says he has an 11-year-old son, and he puts his duty weapon, along with a shotgun he owns, at the top of a closet in his house. That procedure is in line with the Oro Valley Police Department's policies regarding duty weapons, he says.

Olson says he has talked to Sturman and has exchanged e-mails regarding those policies. "I've told her that if she has suggestions for changes in our policies, I'd like to see them, but I've seen zero."

Regarding the Facebook photos that were taken the night of Raidiger's funeral, Olson says he is aware of the photos. Currently, Oro Valley Police Department doesn't have a social networking policy.

"Social networking is new for us, and we're still working out those policies," he says.

Any thoughts that Kleinberg didn't care for Raidiger trouble Olson, who says he personally knows her suicide "greatly affected him. He took it very hard. He lost a girlfriend he was in love with."

Olson points to Kleinberg's personnel file as further evidence that the officer is a good cop. His supervisor wrote on his last evaluation, done a month after Raidiger's suicide, that Kleinberg was doing a very good job, was hardworking and was proactive.

Sturman says one of the last phone conversations she had with Olson was about the police department's policies, but she was told that if they met in person, she would not be allowed to mention Kleinberg and his brother; if she did, she would be escorted out of the office.

"I think what it comes down to is that somebody's death is not important enough to change the policies. I feel it is. I want to do something, but they don't feel compelled to do something," Sturman says.

Olson says Oro Valley's policies regarding guns while off-duty are similar to the policies of other local public-safety agencies. None require that officers use gun locks or keep weapons in a safe while off-duty.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department and the Tucson Police Department have their policies and procedures posted online. Neither requires officers to lock up duty weapons when they are off-duty.

However, other public-safety agencies do. According to policies posted online by the Arizona Department of Corrections, since April 28, 2003, corrections officers must secure their duty weapon in a "security container or shall be fitted with a locking device if stored at the officer's home."

In other states, there are similar policies. The Carbon County Adult Probation Department in Pennsylvania requires probation officers to remove the ammunition from their guns and store the guns and ammunition in different locations immediately after they arrive home. At the University of West Georgia, campus police are provided with a home security safe to store their weapons. In Florida, as of December 3, 2007, West Palm Beach Police Department officers are required to use a gun-locking device.

"It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult to make the change," Sturman says. "Just another layer of protection really couldn't hurt."

[police officer involved domestic violence oidv intimate partner violence (IPV) abuse law enforcement public safety fatality fatalities lethal arizona state unsolved unresolved]


  1. To the loving family of Chelsie,
    I am so sorry for your horrific loss. I am praying for you daily since I learned of this tragedy. Don't ever give up. If the police dept. fails you - keep going. Never stop. I am sadly the sister of a beautiful girl who was a victim also. This must stop. This can not go on. We will flood the earth with our stories and someone will listen. God Bless you and your beautiful family. Don't ever give up hope.

  2. Dont ever give up me and my family are going through this right now as well no note was left and we all had plans its unexplainable never give up we as a family are trying to get our questions unanswered. My heart goes out to you and your family. Dont ever give up hope

    R.I.P victor and chelsie many loved you both and we will never forget you.


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