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The 911 call that brought deputies to a Highlands Ranch apartment for a second time on New Year’s Eve was a strategic and calculated move, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said.
Matthew Riehl, who made the call, believed he would have the advantage there, the sheriff said. Riehl had set up barricades and surveillance cameras. He had multiple guns and plenty of ammunition inside his second-floor apartment.
“I do believe that he lured them back on that second call based upon the type of call it was and what he was saying and what he was doing,” Spurlock said.
Riehl killed Deputy Zackari Parrish and wounded six others — four officers and two civilians — before he was shot to death by a regional SWAT team.
Riehl was going through a manic episode, deputies said. Spurlock said he wants to be sensitive to the fact that Riehl was experiencing a mental-health crisis.
“But I don’t want to blame it on mental health, by any means,” he said more than a week after the shooting.
As questions remained about why Riehl opened fire on deputies, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office released to the media hours of body camera footage, chronicling the events that unfolded at the Copper Canyon Apartments on Dec. 31.
“Matthew, come out,” Deputy Taylor Davis implored as deputies entered Riehl’s home with a key his roommate provided.
Riehl, 37, a U.S. Army veteran and former lawyer, was well-known to law enforcement in Colorado and Wyoming.
He’d been investigated by University of Wyoming police and reportedly harassed Lone Tree police, for which the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was considering criminal charges. But the district attorney’s office said Riehl’s actions were most likely protected by the First Amendment.
Numerous red flags raised about Riehl’s mental well-being resulted in officers conducting welfare checks, sometimes at the request of his family, and attempting to determine if he needed any intervention.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, officers visited Riehl for the last time.
The situation quickly escalated from a domestic disturbance call to a mental health call to a standoff with law enforcement.
Four Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a sergeant moved single file into Riehl’s apartment, shoving their way through a barricade.
Davis, the first deputy in line, held up a shield as they called numerous times to Riehl, who was holed up in his bedroom.
Before entering his apartment, deputies determined Riehl was going through a manic episode. Their last encounter, less than an hour earlier, ended with him slamming a door in their face. Now, they were attempting to place him on a mental health hold.
Body camera video shows the deputies calling to Riehl five times, asking him to come out. Riehl is heard yelling to them from inside his room.
Deputies kick his door four times, and then, a flurry of gunshots burst from Riehl’s bedroom. A gaping hole appears in the door almost instantly.
Deputies Michael Doyle and Jeff Pelle take a few steps outside the apartment when they realize two of their comrades, Davis and Parrish, are trapped inside. They immediately turn back.
“He’s down,” one deputy says of Parrish. The deputy calls for cover as he drops to the ground. Between the deputy and Parrish is Riehl’s bedroom.
He begins to crawl forward, reaching for Parrish, when another round of bullets rains down on them. Doyle and Pelle cry out as they’re hit, and are forced to retreat, leaving Parrish and Davis behind.
In the chaos, however, Pelle and Doyle had not seen Davis run to another bedroom. There, she smashed the window and jumped from the second story to escape the ambush, although she too had been shot.
Only Parrish remained inside, where he stayed with the gunman for nearly 90 minutes before SWAT officers could reach him.
Parrish died of multiple gunshot wounds. Deputies Davis, Doyle and Pelle and Castle Rock police officer Tom O’Donnell and two civilians were wounded by Riehl. All the officers except Pelle were released from the hospital by the night of Jan. 1, but Pelle was expected to make a full recovery.
‘Open the door’
The first 911 call that brought deputies to Riehl’s apartment Dec. 31 came at 3 a.m., and it was in a noise complaint. The second call, made by Riehl, came at 5:14 a.m. for an alleged domestic assault. The first deputy arrived on scene at 5:17 a.m.
At 5:57 a.m., Riehl fired the first shots at officers. By 7:30 a.m., Riehl’s rampage had been stopped by the SWAT team.
Eight body camera videos released by the sheriff’s office Jan. 9 piece together the events that unfolded that morning. The standoff itself lasted less than two hours, but the videos, each from a different officer, are a combined 7 1/2 hours of footage.
The footage shows deputies’ repeated attempts to communicate with Riehl before deciding to detain him on a mental health hold.
“It’s Zack. Matt, open the door,” Parrish called to Riehl through his closed apartment door during the second 911 call they responded to at Riehl’s home.
Parrish identified himself nearly 10 times in response to Riehl’s insistent requests for him to do so.
In addition to following deputies as they enter Riehl’s cluttered apartment and capturing the moment Riehl opened fire on them through his closed bedroom door, the videos show law enforcement swarming to the scene, evacuating residents, scaling balconies, strategizing and conducting the raid that ended Riehl’s life.
No evidence of threat
Police records show Riehl’s family reported he was bipolar and had post-traumatic stress disorder from a year’s deployment to Iraq in 2009.
Police at the University of Wyoming, where Riehl obtained his law degree, investigated him in the fall for making what a spokesman called “alarming” social media posts about the university’s law college and its professors.
They increased security. They warned students, faculty and staff. And later, they alerted police in Lone Tree, where Riehl was believed to be living, about his behavior.
The Lone Tree Police Department had a relationship with Riehl of its own. Starting in November, Riehl began “harassing” an officer who issued him a speeding ticket, and the city’s municipal court, in an effort to get the officer fired and the ticket dismissed, the department has said.
Later that month, when his behavior escalated, the department contacted the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to investigate, as by that time, Riehl had moved to Highlands Ranch, which is in unincorporated Douglas County.
Officials determined there was no evidence Riehl had made any direct threats toward anyone.
‘They knew his history’
In speaking with Colorado Community Media the day of the Jan. 9 release of the videos, Spurlock said authorities found 15 weapons in Riehl’s apartment, 11 of which were functional.
Riehl used four firearms — a shotgun, an M4 rifle, an M16 rifle and a .45-caliber handgun — during the confrontation with law enforcement, the sheriff said. A joint investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined all Riehl’s weapons were legally purchased between 2010 and 2016.
Riehl also used two surveillance cameras, one posted outside his apartment and the other inside, to observe law enforcement before and during the shooting, Spurlock said.
“They didn’t have the advantage of knowing that he had a video camera on them at all times,” Spurlock said of his deputies. “We do know that he used those cameras in the attack on us based on how he was laying down gunfire.”
Despite Riehl’s history with law enforcement, he had no formal criminal record. Still, the four deputies and their sergeant were aware of his past when they responded to the two 911 calls from Riehl’s apartment the morning of the shooting, the sheriff said. They also knew from his roommate that Riehl had guns.
“They knew his history and they knew his propensity to have some mental-health issues,” Spurlock said. “That’s why there were four deputies and a supervisor. Otherwise that call would have been two deputies. Any other mental health call doesn’t get the attention that this individual got.
“Once they determined that they were going to take him to the hospital, they did some additional things for protection purposes. They brought a shield with them that they probably don’t (normally) take out of their cars on these kinds of cases.”
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