Former homeland security officer in Anchorage sentenced to seven years in prison for sexual assault

A former Alaska Department of Homeland Security official was sentenced to seven years in prison in Anchorage on Monday for sexually assaulting and harassing several women he encountered in the workplace.

Bert Christopher “Chris” Heitstuman, 54, was accused of a series of sexual assaults dating back to 2011, when he worked at places like the Anchorage Museum and the federal building. The charges he faced involved at least four women. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault and one count of harassment.

During Monday’s hearing, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack R. McKenna called Heitstuman a “serial offender” before imposing a sentence of 13 years in prison, six years suspended, and 10 years probation. Heitstuman is barred from working in the police or security services under conditions such as sex offender treatment and registration and no contact with numerous victims.

“There were a number of brazen attacks on women who were made even more helpless by his position and role 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 person said at the microphone before sitting back down in tears. “My heart hurts for… everyone he hit.”

In a statement read by an FBI agent, another woman who said she comes from a family of police officers said Heitstuman “abused his authority in uniform to traumatize her” at the museum in 2018.

“The defendant assured me that as a Homeland Security officer, he was at the top of the law enforcement chain. He guaranteed me that no one would believe me if I reported what happened,” the woman wrote. “He assured me that there was a way out of anything, as he had done in the past. His actions and threats put me in a constant state of fear, a state of fear that still affects me to this day.”

Heitstuman apologized before the verdict, saying he had betrayed his profession and never intended to hurt anyone.

“I am not sorry for the accusation,” he said. “What I am sorry for is the sin.”

Heitstuman was charged with five counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of attempted second-degree sexual assault in 2021. As part of the settlement reached in February, all but one of the sexual assault charges were dismissed.

The sexual assault charge stems from incidents between July 2011 and December 2014 in which Heitstuman had sexual contact with three women without their consent, according to charges updated in February. The minor harassment charge related to “indecent physical contact” with another woman in 2018.

During that incident, Heitstuman told the woman, “If you come after me, I’ll come after you,” the original indictment states.

Five of the seven charges related to incidents during Heitstuman’s employment as a law enforcement specialist with the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service. Others related to a time when Heitstuman worked as a security guard at the Dimond Center mall, police said at the time.

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

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

This case was different, however, because it was a guilty plea agreement caused in part by pandemic-related delays, there was only one charge of sexual assault, and some incidents occurred more than ten years ago.

All settlements involve a certain level of compromise, said prosecutor Matt Heibel during the hearing. In this case, the agreement brings certainty and closure, Heibel said.

“It will result in a confession on the record from the named and unnamed persons who were harmed,” he said. “It will result in registration as a sex offender. It will result in a suspended sentence with no contact. And he will get some jail time.”