Sheriff’s office investigating how convicted Watertown Township murderer got guns

Christian Oberender was arrested at this house in Watertown Township on Jan. 2, accused of illegally possessing 13 firearms, including an assault rifle.
Christian Oberender was arrested at this house in Watertown Township on Jan. 2, accused of illegally possessing 13 firearms, including an assault rifle.

The Watertown Township man arrested earlier this month and charged with possessing firearms as a felon was issued a gun permit last year by the Carver County Sheriff’s Office after he reversed his  first and middle names on his application, although even his real name raised no flags in a background check.

That’s according to Carver County Chief Deputy Jason Kamerud, who said the Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate how Christian Phillip Oberender, convicted in the 1995 shooting death of his mother as a 14-year-old, was able to allegedly obtain 13 guns  and fire them regularly behind his Watertown Township home for what neighbors estimate has been as many as 6 or 7 years. Oberender was arrested on Jan. 2 and accused of illegally possessing  the firearms at his home on Neal Avenue — the same home in which he once killed his mother with a shotgun.

The story was first reported on KARE 11 News last Monday, Jan. 14, and has since led to serious questions as to how a person convicted of murder and committed to a treatment facility for mental illness could gain access to so many guns.

Kamerud said the Sheriff’s Office issued a purchase permit in June 2012 to a man using the name Phillip Christian Oberender. Oberender may have been able to use a fake name because no photo identification is required to obtain a purchase permit.

However, in order to purchase a gun in a retail store, Oberender would have needed to show photo identification that matched the name on the permit and pass further background checks, assuming the store followed proper procedures. Kamerud said authorities are still looking into whether Oberender obtained the guns at a retail store or some other method.

“That’s part of what we’re drilling into,” Kamerud said. “We don’t know whether he bought the firearms from retailers, a third party, or a straw buyer.”

Even if Oberender was successfully able to use the permit he obtained based on his false name to purchase any guns, it certainly doesn’t explain all the guns in his possession. That permit was issued only about 7 months ago, and neighbors estimate Oberender has been firing guns in his back yard for as many as 6 or 7 years.

The more startling aspect is that even Oberender’s real name did not trigger any flags during a background check that Kamerud performed after Oberender’s arrest. Kamerud said that check showed no disqualifications as to Oberender’s right to purchase or possess guns, possibly due to filing errors made at the time of his original murder conviction. Those errors potentially could have allowed Oberender to purchase a long rife or a shotgun. No state permit is needed to buy either of those types of guns, and instead, a federal background check is performed at the counter of the retail store. If Oberender’s disqualifications didn’t show up on a BCA background check, they may not have shown up on a federal check, either.

In order for the necessary disqualifiers to appear on a criminal background check, two things must be sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Kamerud said the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for sending a fingerprint card, and the Court Administration office is responsible for sending the case disposition. The BCA has said in a statement that it is not responsible for the error because it never received those things.

“That was 17 years ago, so I have no way of knowing if the fingerprint card was mailed, and I don’t work at Court Administration, so I don’t know how those records get from court administration to the BCA,” Kamerud said. “The first thing we did when we learned the record hadn’t been updated was make sure the fingerprint card was created and sent to the BCA, and linked to the 1995 homicide.”

It is unclear whether or not the errors on Oberender’s criminal record enabled him to pass background checks and purchase guns in a retail store. However, Kamerud said it does appear that the omissions from his background files enabled him to keep those guns for as long as he did.

It was no secret that Oberender possessed guns, as he fired them outside his house for years. Neighbors say they often wondered how a convicted murder was able to have guns, but it appears that only one neighbor ever reported it to the Sheriff’s Office. That was in July 2011, but nothing ever came of the report.

Kamerud said that’s likely because a responding deputy would have run a background check, seen no flags, and assumed Oberender was allowed to possess guns. It is not illegal to shoot guns in Watertown Township, so a deputy would have had no reason to take action. Even if aware that Oberender had been convicted of murder in the past, a deputy may have assumed the reason those gun possession disqualifiers were not on his record was because he had been a juvenile at the time he was convicted.

Still, some neighbors were upset Oberender was able to possess the guns as long as he did, especially after they were reported to the authorities.

“It doesn’t matter if it was one call or 10 calls, a call was made and nothing was done,” said one neighbor who wished to remain anonymous. “That’s horrible. They could have been taken away along time ago if the right procedures had been used.”

Kamerud said the Sheriff’s Office is working with the BCA to make sure similar mistakes haven’t been made with other violent offenders. Many of Oberender’s neighbors also said they hope the proper corrections are made.

“We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said the neighbor who made the complaint to the Sheriff’s Office in 2011. “This is probably over for our neighborhood, but there might be somebody else out there. There’s a gap in the system, and the system needs to be fixed.”

Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]