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

A former federal Homeland Security law enforcement officer in Alaska was sentenced Monday in Anchorage to seven years in prison for sexually assaulting and harassing women he encountered on the job.

Bert Christopher “Chris” Heitstuman, 54, was accused of a series of sexual assaults dating back to 2011 while working at places including the Anchorage Museum and the Federal Building. The allegations he heard concerned at least four women. He pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault and one count of molestation earlier this year.

During Monday’s hearing, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack R. McKenna called Heitsstuman a “serial predator” and handed down a sentence of 13 years in prison, suspended for six years, and 10 years probation with conditions including sex offender treatment and registration, as well as no contact with many victims. Heitstuman will no longer be allowed to work in law enforcement or security.

“There were a series of brazen attacks on women that made him even more helpless because of the position he was in and his role as a member of law enforcement,” McKenna said.

The two women described Heitsstuman as a man who used the power of his badge as a weapon against them.

“Being targeted hurts,” one of them said on the microphone, before sitting down again and bursting into tears. “My heart aches for…everyone he met.”

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 is at the top of the law enforcement food chain. He assured me that no one would believe me if I reported what happened,” the woman wrote. “He assured me that ‘you can get through anything,’ as he had in the past. His actions and threats left me in a constant state of fear that haunts me to this day.”

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

“I am not sorry about the charges,” he said. “I’m sorry for my sin.”

Heitstuman was charged in 2021 with five counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of attempted second-degree sexual assault. In a February plea agreement, he dismissed all but one of the sexual assault charges.

According to the charges updated in February, the sexual assault charge stemmed from incidents that occurred between July 2011 and December 2014 involving three women with whom Heitstuman had sexual contact without their consent. The misdemeanor harassment charge involved “abusive physical contact” with another woman in 2018.

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

Five of the seven charges related to incidents that occurred during Heitstuman’s employment as a law enforcement specialist for the Federal Internal Protection Service. Others involved a period when Heitstuman worked as a security guard at the Dimond Center shopping mall, police said at the time.

McKenna said this week’s sentence is the minimum a judge could impose in 2011, but is now closer to the maximum sentence for second-degree sexual assault: 15 years, with three of those 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 sexual acts or touch them while on duty. Rollins was sentenced to 87 years in prison following trial on multiple sexual assault charges.

This case, however, was different because it involved a settlement resulting in part from pandemic-related delays, only one sexual assault charge, and some incidents dating back more than 10 years.

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

“The record includes the recognition of those people, both named and unnamed, who suffered harm,” he said. “He gets sex offender registration. He gets a probation period with a no-contact order. And he gets some prison time.